SHINING A LIGHT ON CANADIAN FICTION (ages 10- 14)

ALINA IN A PINCH by Shenaaz Nanji 

Alina has moved to a new school and is teased because of the lunches she brings.  When Alina’s parents are forced to travel to Africa, her grandmother comes to take care of her and the two enjoy cooking Afro-Indian meals together. From her Nani, Alina learns that ‘we are all the same, yet different: ‘different colored balloons flying under one sky… Each of us has hopes, fears., and dreams. We all want to be love and to be accepted.” Alina is determined to find the cruel bully culprit who makes fun of her. She is also determined to audition for the Junior Chef competition by creating a healthy treat. This chapter book will guide readers into diversity and equity and acceptance… and not just because of the food we eat. 

THE BARREN GROUNDS: BOOK ONE of THE MISEWA SAGA by David A. Robertson

Publisher’s synopsis: Narnia meets traditional Indigenous stories of the sky and constellations in an epic middle-grade fantasy series from award-winning author David Robertson.

Morgan and Eli, two Indigenous children forced away from their families and communities, are brought together in a foster home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They each feel disconnected, from their culture and each other, and struggle to fit in at school and at their new home — until they find a secret place, walled off in an unfinished attic bedroom. A portal opens to another reality, Askí, bringing them onto frozen, barren grounds, where they meet Ochek (Fisher). The only hunter supporting his starving community, Misewa, Ochek welcomes the human children, teaching them traditional ways to survive. But as the need for food becomes desperate, they embark on a dangerous mission. Accompanied by Arik, a sassy Squirrel they catch stealing from the trapline, they try to save Misewa before the icy grip of winter freezes everything — including them. Book 2: The Great Bear; Book 3: The Stone Child. 

BEATRICE AND CROC HARRY by Lawrence Hill

Award-winning author, Lawrence Hill, (The Book of Negroes) has written a book for middle-age readers that is sure to appeal to those who join in the adventures of a fictional character. We first meet Beatrice in a forest-tree house and as it turns out she is the only human in the forest.  How did she get there? Who can she talk to? Will she be staying in the magical forest or Argilia and coexist with other animals who seem able to communicate with others. A wise lemur, a loyal tarantula, a feisty rabbit and especially  King Crocodile (Croc Harry) become Beatrice’s allies as she is on a quest to learn about her past and a  discover the truth about her family Lawrence Hill is a great storyteller and Beatrice and Croc Harry is filled with magical and dangerous adventures (maybe too many events). Beatrice and Croc Harry is a book about friendship, loyalty, courage and vocabulary. Moreover, Beatrice and Croc Harry turns out to be a story about the quest of a Black girl discovering the truth about her family as well as racial violence.  A wonder of a book!

BORDERS by Thomas King; illus. Natasha Donovan 

This book presents Thomas King’s short story “Borders” (1993) as a graphic novel. When his older sister moves from Alberta to Salt Lake City, a boy and his mother decide to visit her. The border guards asks a simple question: Are you Canadian or American and the mother answers “Blackfoot”. After being detained in both border patrols, the mother refuses to change her answer. This is a story powerfully extols the truth of identity and belonging from an Indigenous perspective.

BURYING THE MOON by Andree Poulin; illus. Sonali Zohra

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” ~ Buddha

Narrative? Nonfiction? Poetry? This wonderful free-verse novel is a beautiful – and powerful – work of art both verbally and visually. The story is set in Rural India and events are seen through the eyes of pre-puberty Latika who wants to bury the light of the moon that shines brightly on the field of Shame where women have to ‘do their business’. With no toilets in the village, many girls are taken out of school once they reach puberty. When a government representative visits her village, she bravely meets up with him, hoping to arouse compassion and change for girls. Poulin, through a series of titled poems, shines a light on the lack of access sanitation facilities that affects over 4 billion people worldwide (one in five schools in the world don’t have toilets). I certainly wasn’t aware that World Toilet Day Takes place every year on November 19th to raise awareness of this significant public health issue.  Thank you Ms Poulin for this important , heartfelt story. Thank you Sonali Zohra for your lively spot-art and full-page illustrations that convey a sense of place, people and events in one small Indian community. This is certain to be at the top of list of favourite children’s literature reads for 2021.

THE CASE OF THE BURGLED BUNDLE by Michael Hutchinson

This is the third book in the Mighty Muskrats Mystery Series by Cree author, Michael Hutchinson. A bundle ceremony is an Indigenous ritual in which the oral histories and philosophy of a nation are passed down through generations. “It is the experience that is the message”. In this novel, the author once again creates the fictional Windy Lake First Nation. The National Assembly of Cree Peoples has gathered together for a four-day-long ceremony and when the treaty bundle is stolen, the Might Muskrats, cousins Chickadee, Atim, Otter, and Sam set out to find the culprit(s). Hutchinson not only gives readers with an intriguing whodunnit, but provides rich detail and information of the Cree nation. B00k Four: The Case of the Rigged Race

COINKEEPER: THE AVERY CHRONICLES (4 books) Teresa Schapansky

Teresa Schapansky has met her goal of writing books that will appeal to readers, particularly reluctant readers, who are keen to read not-to-long books with fine story power. Avery has a strong bond with his grandpa and grandpa has great stories to tell about travelling into the past and taken part or being witness to legendary tales.. Cleverly, the author presents the Coinkeeper narrative in short paragraphs with generous white space dividing each paragraph. Clever too, is the presentation of each story in four books, each no more than 32 pages. (Each book provides Extra Reading information connected to story components.) . This short length should motivate middle years readers. Moreover, the stories that Grandpa tells have great folklore appeal (the Ogopogo Monster, The Selkies, Billy the Kid, the legendary camel knows as the Red Ghost). Highly recommended.

FIREFLY by Philippa Dowding 

When Firefly’s drug-loving, baseball-bat-wielding mother has been taking to rehab, the young teenager is sent to her Aunt Gayle’s house which is certainly a better home than the park she’s been forced to live in. Aunt Gayle’s shop with seven million costumes adds a variety and colour to Firefly’s life as she strives to cope with a new school, a new home, and some new friends.   Firefly is a great character and one that readers will absolutely root for – and learn about resilience from. Winner of the 2021 Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature.

THE FLOODED EARTH by Mardi McConnochie

Twins Annalie and Will cross the ocean to find their missing father. Within this adventure story that includes a sailboat, pirates, secret storms, cannibals and a technologically enhanced parrot, the author explores current world issues that includes climate change and the refugee crisis. Winner of the Green Earth Book Award. Also in the “Flooded Earth Trilogy: The Castle in the Sea; The Skeleton Coast.

MY NAME IS KONISOLA by Alisa Siegel

Nine-year0old Konisola and her mother have moved to Canada since live in Nigeria is no longer safe for them. In Canada, Konisola’s mother falls ill and mother and daughter are separated. A refugee in a strange country with no family or friends,  Konisola is forced to fend for herself until she meets a kind Canadian nurse who takes care of her. 

NO VACANCY by Tziporah Cohen

Miriam, an eleven-year-old Jewish  has moved with her mother and father and little brother Sammy to the Town of Greenvale, population 510. Life will be very different for Miriam from what she is used to in New York, especially with the challenge of making a worthwhile living with the Jewel Motel which her father just purchased. It is summertime and Miriam makes friends with the maid, with Kate and with the owners of the diner next to the hotel. It is the summer of helping out her family, of taking care of overcoming a fear of swimming, of making grape pies.  Miriam and Kate devise a plot to bring people to the community and when they create a vision of the Virgin Mary in the abandoned community drive-in, motel business does indeed boom. Problems arise, however, when the motel is vandalized with a hate message against the Jewish family. Eventually comes to learn that religion can bring out the good in all of us and as the rabbi in the story says “It’s not what happens to us, it’s what we do with what happens to us.” Winner of the CCBC Jean LIttle First Novel Award, 2021.

STEP by Deborah Ellis

This short story collection features characters from around the world who on the occasion of turning 11 years old who are each connected to family, friends or community and consider how their 11th birthday marks the first day of the rest of their lives as they STEP forward into a life of independence and change. A boy walks a dog, a girl takes a camping trip on her own, a boy volunteers in a soup kitchen, a boy learns that his father is a Neo Nazi, a girl is hopeful of survival while sailing on a rubber raft with other refugees. Remarkable stories, each with a one word title (e.g., Smash, Alone, Rock, Rubber, Shoes) guaranteed to inspire compassion and connection, reflection and hope for middle years readers.

All royalties from the sale of STEP will be donated to the United Nations High Commissioner or Refugees (UNHCR) which works to aid and protect people forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict and persecution.

RED WOLF by Jennifer Dance 

At a very young age, Red Wolf is forced to attend a residential school far from the life he knows.  The author paints a stark and unsettling/ brutal portrait of life for Indigenous children taken away from their families under the Indian Act of 1876. The fear alienation and powerlessness of thousands of First Nation children. The story is balanced by the narrative of Crooked Ear, a wolf being forced from the land who throughout the story helps Red Wolf to survive. The author has a passion for equality and justice and as a non-native has dedicated her writing and research to presents a vivid and informative portrait of Anishnaabe, language, beliefs and culture. Other titles in the ‘White Feather’ Collection:  Paint; Hawk.

UNDER THE IRON BRIDGE by Kathy Kacer

Kathy Kacer is a very special author who brings Holocaust history to today’s middle-age+ readers. She does her research. She is an expert storyteller. Kathy Kacer is a model author of historical fiction.  The setting of this book is Dusseldorf, Germany 1938. The story is centred on Paul who is under pressure to join the Hitler Youth which challenges his ethical beliefs and leads to some decisions that has an impact on those who are important to him including school friends, parents and Jews. Kacer presents the true story of the rebel group known as the Edelweiss Pirates  who were set out to undermine Nazi t power. Kacer has written over 20 books that focus on stories of the Holocaust ( The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, The Brave Princess and Me, The Brushmaker’s Daughter, Broken Strings (with Eric Walters). I’m so fond of this new book, not only because it emotionally took me into the history and cruelty of Nazi threats but it was a story of taking the courage to stand up and fight for what you believe in, a theme that resonates for today’s and tomorrow’s generation.  “I am a passionate advocate for stories about the Holocaust. I think the lesson we can learn – lessons about hatred and power, but also lessons about compassion, strength, and selflessness – are lessons for the ages?” (from Teaching Tough Topics, 2020, page 69). 

 

SHOUT OUT: SHORT STORIES

SIT by Deborah Ellis

STEP by Deborah Ellis

SUNNY DAYS INSIDE: and other stories by Caroline Anderson

WAR AT THE SNOW WHITE HOTEL and Other Stories by Tim Wynne-Jones

 

 

 

PROFESSIONAL READING: Some recent titles

The eleven titles listed here are professional titles that I’ve recently acquired that provided insights into effective literacy practice as well as social justice diversity and equity teaching. NOTE: The descriptions accompanying each title are mostly drawn from the blurbs on the back covers of the books. 

 

BEYOND THE ORANGE SHIRT SATORY by Phyllis Webstad

Medicine Wheel Education, 2021

This is a collection of stories from family and friends of Phyllis Webstad before, during and after their Residential School experiences. Survivors and Intergenerational Survivors share their stories authentically in their own words. 

#BLACKINSCHOOL by Habiba Cooper Diallo

University of Regina Press, 2021

This book is Habiba Cooper Diallo’s high school journal, in which she documents, processes and resists the systemic racism, microagrressions, stereotypes and outright racism she experienced as a Black girl attending high school in Canada.  Her words will resonate with some but should shock, appall, and animate a great many more into action towards a society that is truly equitable for all. 

CLASSROOM TEACHING IN THE 21ST CENTURY: Directions, Principles and Strategies by Clive Beck and Clare Kosnik, Open University Press, 2022

As technology becomes more widespread and the world continues to change in many other ways, teachers have adapted to allow education to evolve with the 21st Century.  This book provides theoretical foundations and highly practical strategies drawing on the ideas and experiences of practicing teachers. Beck and Kosnik highlight how crucial education is for equipping future generations with the skills for individual, societal and planetary wellbeing, while still considering the pressures of ‘teaching to the test’. 

HOW MUCH DOES A SCHOOL COST?: School Economies and school values  by Barbara J. Smith

Rowman & Littlefield, 2021

I can’t imagine any school leader/ administrator or those aspiring to step into administrator’s role, not reading, learning or growing from this book. Master educator, Barbara J. Smith provides readers with bold ideas for imagining and teaching with a forward-thinking light. Concrete examples, research citations, speculations, stories guide educators to 1. Define greatness 2. Clarify parameters and conditions for best practices 3. Examine the nature of school budgets 4. Dream of a new ideal school 5. Contrasting ideal with traditional schools. This book is an invitation – and a challenge – to educators to reflect, prioritize, negotiate and put their cards on the table to create programming, staffing, professional development – and budgeting that works towards an innovative, GREATER education for schools, today and tomorrow. The book is divided into 20 short chapters, each ending with a component the component “Grappling with iIdeas” where Smith poses questions of concern that demand attention. It’s time to get into groups and discuss!!!

#I WISH MY TEACHER KNEW: How one question can change everything for our kids by Kyle Schwartz

Hatchett Books, 2016

One day, third grade teacher Kyle Schwartz asked her students to fill in the blank in this sentence: “I WISH MY TEACHER KNEW_____”. Some of the results were humorous, some heartbreaking. Many answers were moving, all were enlightening. The student answers opened Schwart’z eyes to the need for educators to understand the unique realities their students face in order to create an open, safe, and supporting classroom environment. When the author shared her experiences online, teachers around the glob began sharing their own contributions to #IWishMyTeacherKnew. The book provides a look at systemic problems that affect students nationwide (e.g., poverty, mobility, trauma, relationships). Reading the stories and strategies can help educators, family members and students consider how we can help students to tackle challenges and grow as individuals. 

TEACHERS THESE DAYS: Stories and Strategies for Reconnection by Jody Carrington and Laure Mcintosh

IMPress books.org, 2021

Teaching is literacy and numeracy but most importantly, it’s showing up with your whole heart. As we work to piece together our education system in the fallout of the global pandemic, the focus must be on the teachers. If the people in charge – th0se teachers n- aren’t OK, the students don’t stand a chance. The authors weave the science of human development with real-life stories and tangible strategies told by teachers. 

TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION IN CANADIAN SCHOOLS by Pamela Rose Toulouse

Portage & Main Press, 2018

This book offers valuable practical suggestions, useful background information, and a way forward for addressing the topics of Indigenous cultures, residential schools, and reconciliation in the K-12 classroom. Dr. Toulouse provides accessible information and ready-to-use lesson  and how-to suggestions to incorporate Indigenous teachings in science, social studies, health, physical education and the arts. 

YOU CAN’T SAY THAT! compiled and edited by Leonard S. Marcus

Candlewick Press, 2021

Writers for young people talk about censorship, free expression, and the stories they have to tell (voices include David Levithan, Katherine Paterson, Dav Pilkey, R.L. Stine, Angie Thomas

 

PEMBROKE PUBLISHERS

DEEPENING IN-CLASS AND ONLINE LEARNING: 60 step-by-step strategies to encourage interaction, foster inclusion and spark imagination by Larry Swartz, Debbie Nyman and Magdalin Livingston, 2021

This resource shows teachers how to make learning joyful as they translate successful calssroom strategies to virtual learning and back again as the need arises. Each of the 60 step-by-step activities is ready-to-use in-class and/or for distance learning.  The book offers ways for students to play, communicate, collaborate , create and present. 

POWERFUL POETRY: Read, Write, Rejoice, Recite Poetry All Year Long by Adrienne Gear, 2021

In this book, the author explains how the ‘experience’ of a poem is both visual and auditory; emotional and cognitive. Gear provides a comprehensive approach to reading and writing poetry offering the background and activities teachers may need to bring poetry to life for their students.  The resource is organized around discovery, experiencing, learning, and creating poetry through practical lessons. 

SOMETIMES READING IS HARD: Using decoding, vocabulary, and comprehension strategies to inspire fluent, passionate, lifelong readers by Robin Bright, 2021

This book explores he science of reading and shows teachers how to balance decoding, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency skills with a love of reading. A wide range of ready to use instructional strategies demonstrate fresh ways to build student confidence, curiosity, and empathy. 

Into 2022: Grown-up Reads

The ten titles below comprise fiction. nonfiction and poetry. Several titles were some favourite reads of the year and were absolutely are worthy of SHOUT OUTS. A few titles listed below were abandoned before I reached the end of the book. That’s OK!

 

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU? by Sally Rooney

This book won the Goodreads prize as favourite fiction, 2021. 2. I hated this book. I started reading it about a month ago and when reached page 47, i put it down. When I heard it won the Goodreads honour, I decided to return to the novel and i plodded through it during this stay-at-home week due to Covid. When I reached page 223 of the 353 page book, I tossed it across the room and shouted FEH! I actually was relieved when I decided to give up on this book (223 pages gave it a good go) about Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon, friends and couples living in Ireland. The relationships go back and forth from, I love you,l I can’t be with you and I just wanted Cher to come in and say “Snap out of it!’ I felt this way about Rooney’s novel Normal People (which made a very good television series.  The narrative about the on-again, off again partnerships kept me going (a bit) but the book is interspersed with emails between Alice (a famous author) and Eileen (a frustrated editor) and the emails go on for 5 or 6 pages. If I got an email that was 2000 words, i wouldn’t be happy. I likely wouldn’t read those messages.  The emails, however,  giver Rooney a chance to philosophize and blab on about the meaning of politics and Jesus and love and life and happiness from a 30-something’s point of view. (I stopped reading when discussion in Chapter 21 goes to the meaning of ‘beauty’.) I actually like to read epistolary writing and wouldn’t this have been better as an exchange of short letters (ahh! the old days). Rather than long long emails. Sally Rooney wrote an early book called  Conversations with Friends. Me? I don’t want to be part of any of these conversations. And I’m finished with reading Rooney’s blah blah blah. Great that this book was liked by so many people. I’d say there is a particular audience for this book but a single 72 year old fart ain’t one of them. I am going to toss this book in a box and leave, hang a sign that says ‘Please take’ and leave it in the hallway of my condo hoping that someone (30+) pick Beautiful World, Where Are You (no question mark) up and enjoys it more than eye did. FEH!  I’m giving it one star because I enjoyed reading about Dublin, a city I very much enjoyed visiting.

BLACK NO MORE by George S. Schuyler

This title intrigued me because of a recent theatre production I saw of the novel. The story is about a scientific process that transforms black people into white-skinned citizens. Having bleached skin allows any black person who could  afford the $50 procedure. the opportunity. to ent3r into previously forbidden territory (e.g. White Supremacy group, The Knights of Nordica who are on a mission to ‘fight for white race integrity’). That this speculative piece of fiction was written in 1931 is rather mind-boggling as we consider the world of Harlem, and the struggles of Blacks to fit in – and how the themes resonated today. Even at 150 pages, it wasn’t all that smooth a narrative as we enter the world of Max Disher and his entry into the world of white supremacists but nonetheless quite an intriguing story (both as musical play and as a fiction). What if all Blacks chose to be white? What would motivate them to change their race? What does it mean to be Black culturally, socially, emotionally? What happens if a former black person, now white, marries a white woman who then becomes pregnant? (disclaimer:  I stopped reading this about after 100 pages of the 150 page book) 

CALL US WHAT WE CARRY by Amanda Gorman (poems)

Amanda Gorman delivered her poem “The Hill We Climb’ at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration which garnered her deserved international attention. This anthology provides further validation of her wordsmithing genius but also provides a collage of history, language, identity.  The poems challenge readers to draw on history and point to a future of hope and healing. Brilliantly, the poet draws on grief of the global pandemic. Many poems are HARD and deserve slow reading and often re-reading. I read the poems chronologically page by page and found myself turning down the corners of some pages to hold on to snippets. Sometimes, inspecting the parts, helps to understand the whole. How do you like to read poetry? What do you do if you feel you don’t ‘get it’?When you read Call Us What We Carry you will be invited to turn down your own pages (if it’s your own copy!)

I love the word that Gorman gives us in her poem ‘What We Did in the Time Being

Sample snippets / excerpts

~~~~How long can we stand the dark

           Before we become more than our shadows.(p. 50)

~~~~We cannot possess hope without practicing it. (p. 52)

~~~~When we tell a story, 

          We are living 

          memory. (p. 74)

 

~~~~Hate is a virus.

          A virus demands a body.

          What we mean is:

          Hate only survives when hosted in humans. (p.124)

 

CLOUD CUKOO LAND by Anthony Doerr

This is a remarkable book, a well-reviewed book, a complex, multi-narrative, multi-settings  book that has wowed many readers. I’m not one of them. I was plowing through the book and after 160 pages decided to abandon it and I was relieved when I gave myself permission to do so. Why spend time on books that i’m not engaged with when I have many books around me shouting “Read me! Read me!”. As a bibliophile of sorts,  I should have loved Cloud Cukoo Land better than I did because it is about importance of storytelling, of libraries and of books. But for me the book was like watching TV with remote control in hand, frequently switching channels to find out what’s on and what will keep your attention and discovering that I should just turn off the TV (or watch a cooking show). If  this title was a Netflix series, I would likely have given up after the first few episodes. This novel frequently switches narratives and I couldn’t wrap my head around most of the too many episodes. The Science Fiction part set in the future on an interstellar ship did not in any way appeal. (no judgements please). Because a couple of friends highly recommended it, I felt I should continue, but great reviews and praise from from friends does not always make a good read. Anthony Doerr  (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for All the Light We Cannot See) writes some beautiful beautiful sentences and some vivid paragraphs but alas, I wasn’t at all cuckoo for this 622 page book. 

THE ORIGINAL BAMBI: THE STORY OF A LIFE IN THE FOREST by Felix Salten, Translated by Jack Zipes

I read a review of this book in the New York Times Children’s Books section, but it was clear that this was not a book for children. It isn’t. This book, originally written in 1923,  is based on a 1928 English translation of a novel by Austrian Jewish Writer Felix Salten. The subtitle of the book captures the essence of the story, as Salten takes us into the woods.  Any images of Bambi that we have from the Disney version are to be dismissed as the author presents an allegorical story of loyalty, courage survival, loyalty and killing. Adult readers will take what they will from the philosophical message of this book: perhaps the paradox of dependence and independence, perhaps a strong case for animal rights, perhaps the treatment of minority groups (Salten was an Austro-Hungarian Jew).  The writing of this translation is at once descriptive and poetic. Black and white illustrations that appear throughout are exquisite portraits of the animals who give life to a forest and  its surrounding environment. 

A word from Jack Zipes before entering the forest (excerpt ofTranslator’s note)

“Bambi is a sad but truthful novel. It was never intended for children. Unfortunately, the little ones – not to mention their parents  – have been fed a diluted version in film and numerous books. Salten, a brilliant Austrian journalist and lover of animals, was also a dedicated hunter, a killer of deer and other harmless beasts. His novel Bambi, written after World War I, is an allegory about the weak and powerless in the world. This story has great implications for the development of humanity in our conflicted world.”

SCARBOROUGH by Catherine Hernandez (2017)

This powerful book was listed for the Trillium Book Award, A Canada Reads Selection (2022) and A Globe and Mail Best Book. I had, of course heard about the book, but when I recently saw a trailer for a movie version of Scarborough, I decided to dig into the book, particularly since I admire stories that employ a multitude of voices. Hernandez poignantly conveys narratives of families who live in low-income urban neighbourhoods, smothered by poverty. Crime, abuse, hunger, education and racism provide a bleak landscape of a troubled community. Central to the narrative, is the plight of children who are enrolled in the Red Rouge Literacy program and it is the stories of these young people that give a punch to the heart as they (and their parents) struggle to be nourished with food, with education and with social activities that provide them with a place of belonging. The author presents a stark, poetic portrait of diverse characters  characters in fairly short chapters.  Hernandez is well deserved of the recognition and praise for her shining a light on the ugliness and resilience of those throughout the world who live in communities like Scarborough, Ontario. 

Three days later: Just saw this remarkable, heartbreaking movie,  with screenplay by Hernandez which faithfully depicts the events of the novel with remarkable performances of both adults and children. 

SHOUT OUT

AIN’T BURNED ALL THE BRIGHT by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin

Jason Reynolds is a popular – important – author of books for young people. I always look forward to a new title by this award-winning author. Ain’t Burned All the Bright is targeted for teens. but it is a book for those inside and beyond adolesence.  From the book jacket: “this fierce-vulnerable-brilliant-terrifying-whaiswrongwithhumans-hopefilled, hopeful-tender-heartbreaking-heartmaking manifesto on what it means not to be able to  breathe, and how the people and things at your fingertips are actually the oxygen you most need.” I stand on the line to say that this is the best book produced this year, YA, or not. It is a marriage of two artists creating a ‘manifesto’ of Black Lives Matter, of the Pandemic, of Climate Change. For me the book is  is about the need to take a deep breath in times of trouble. The book is divided into three Sections: Breath One; Breath Two; Breath Three and each section is one sentence written by the brilliant Mr. Reynolds. The multi-media art work is fiery and explosive and evocative of the words. There is art in Jason Reynold’s poetry. There is poetry in Mr. Griffin’s art (I would love to own any one of these illustrations).The formatting and production value deserves special kudos. 

If I had buckets of money, i would make sure that every black teenager owned a copy of this exquisite book Heck, make that ALL teenagers. They may not immediately ‘get it’ but let the book sit on a shelf, let them return to it in a week, in a decade ahead. Let them turn to a friend and share what they did get out of it, how they connected to the book, and how the book raised questions for them about their identity, race, climate,. The book invites them pay attention to what they see/ hear on the news,  to slow down and consider what is going on in the minds of their family and friends and to think about what is happening in their today world. The book is dedicated: “For everyone we lost and everything we learned in the strangest year of our lives – 2020.” it is a book for yesterday, today and tomorrow. 

It will take not so very minutes to go through this book, page by page. It will invite re-reading immediately and in days ahead. It will foster reflection as readers make meaning and think about what is happening in their head and heart.  Thank you , thank you J&J for this  special work of ART. 

A masterpiece. 

Excerpt (opening)

I’m sitting here wondering shy

my mother wont’ change the channel

and why the news won’t 

change the story

and why the story won’t change into something new

instead of the every-hour rerrun

about how we won’t change the world

or the way we treat the world

 

SHOUT OUT

SMILE: The Story of a Face by Sarah Ruhl

Playwright Sarah Ruhl tells her story of a decade living and  coping with f Bell’s palsy. Following a high-risk pregnancy with twins Ruhl discovers that the left side of her face is completely paralyzed and as it turns out she is one of 10 percent of palsy patients who does not experience recovery. Ruhl describes her life as loving mother, wife, daughter, friend and dedicated playwright as she searches from a cure from a number of some helpful and some not so helpful doctors, therapists and acupuncturists.  Ruhl brilliantly describes her physical, emotional and spiritual healing. It is a story of struggle, courage, resilience and perseverance through inner and external  persona of a talented writer. Photos spread throughout, help readers to look into Sarahs’ face. Quotations from literary sources add insight and compassion to Ruhl’s personal narrative that cannot help but readers to look into the mirror and dig into their own souls and gratitudes. 

It is January 3rd as  I write this and I’m not being facetious when I say that this is the best book I’ve read this year. This exquisite book is sure to be at the top of my 2022 reading list.  A raw, wise and astonishing memoir.  

 

SHOUT OUT

A CARNIVAL OF SNACKERY: Diaries 2003-2020 by DAVID SEDARIS

I am a David Sedaris fan. In fact, I’d love to be David Sedaris when I grow up. I’ve always loved his writing (Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim; Calypso) and after Theft by Finding, diary entries 1977-2002, I couldn’t wait for the continuation which we know have in A Carnival of Snackery (the name of an item on a menu in an Indian restaurant in London). Humour is funny thing (you can quote me on that), but I absolutely ‘get’ Sedaris’s microscopic observations and recordings of human behaviour.  We are a wonky bunch. The author travels the world, giving about 50 presentations per year. Not only does he relish interactions with his drivers, with those who work in stores and restaurants but he commits himself to taking daily walks wherever he goes and collects any data that comes his way that can be considered, quirky, weird, or yes normal. (He is also dedicated to picking up bags and bags of litter carelessly strewn throughout his neighbourhood. ) Through his writing, Sedaris seems to make the abnormal, normal. Along the way we are given entry into his relationships with his 30+year partner, Hugh, his family, his neighbours, and his cantankerous father, so unlike his son.  Sedaris collects stories, T-shirt slogans, billboard messages, rude jokes and I responded to these with glee and wonder and often laugh out loud delight.  The author has his critics but me? I ‘d like to read his daily diary entries any day to give me a lift and a smile and thought. This book kept me great company while hibernating during lockdown restrictions. I think I shall re-read A Carnival of Snackery with pencil in hand to mark up my pages to record David Sedaris’s brilliance. I may need a box of pencils. 

A sampling:

September 25, 2007, Paris: To honor the death of Marcel Marceau I observed a minute of silence.

April 29, 2014: I told Hugh yesterday that when I die, I want my body taken to an ice creamatorium. There I would like a traditional sundae service.

July 1, Raleigh: I met a woman from Gastonia, “There was an IHOP in our town that was located on Cox Road, and they’d answer their phone saying, IHOP on Cox!” she told me.

 

SHOUT OUT

MAX EISEN, author of BY CHANCE ALONE: A remarkable story of courage and survival at Auschwitz, winner of the Canada Reads, 2019. 

Mazel Tov: Max Eisen, age 92,  is a recipient of the order of Canada, 2021. 

In his Canadian Holocaust memoir, Max Eisen details details the rural Hungarian deportations to Auschwitz-Birkenau, back-breaking slave labour in Auschwitz I, the infamous “death march” in January 1945, the painful aftermath of liberation, a journey of physical and psychological healing.

 

 

 

 

PICTURE BOOKS

A baker’s dozen of picture books from 2021/2022 (and one a 1994 publication). I have chosen 4 title as “Shout Out’s” when in fact, each of these recommendations deserve “Shout Out” attention. 

 

THE BOAT THAT BEN BUILT by Jen Lynn Bailey; illus. Maggie Zeng


Ben builds a boat and with gear and curiosity, he meets a black bear, a moose, a goose, a heron, and an an owl, Author’s notes presents facts about every animal that Ben encounters. A journey into ecology, food web, and species diversity.  POEM+NARRATIVE+INFORMATION make this a very clever book about  the ways in which things are connected. Terrific!

This is the OWL that HOOS on a whim/ and startles the HERON all proper and prim. 

 

HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A FLOWER? by Shawn Harris

The jacket blurb says it best byasking: “Have you ever seen a flower? Have you ever been a flower” The artist dips into a palette of electric/neon/ colours inviting readers to think about, really think about  the joy, the scent, the feel,  the beauty, the wonder and glory  of flowers. (A Caldecott Honor Book, 2022)

“Have you ever seen a flower so deep you had to shout HELLO and listen for an echo just to know how deep it goes/”

 

THE LIBRARY BUS by Bahram Rahman; illus Gabriele Grimard

Winner of the 2021 Middle East Book Award, Picture book category

In Kabul, Afghanistan, the library bus, with no bus seats, but chairs and tables and shelves and shelves of books, Pari becomes her mother’s helper and yearns to go to school to learn English, and join other Afghan girls who are in pursuit of education.  

“Pari, when you go to school next year, I want you to study hard. Never stop learning. Then you will be free,. Tell me now,” she adds with a wink, ‘how does learning make you feel?”

 

LIKE CATS AND DOGS by Melanie Perreault; illus. Marion Arbona

When her parents get divorced, Rosalie goes from one house to another. Even though her parents don’t get along, Rosalie knows that she is loved by both her mother and father. This story provides a mirror to many young people who are caught in the middle of parents who fight like cats and dogs. 

“Every time they’re together, everything goes wrong…I become Rosalie the mouse. A little mouse trying to love them both.”

 

PHOENIX GETS GREATER by Martin Wilson-Trudeay with Phoenix Wilson; illus,Megan Kyak-Monteith

Phoenix delights in twirling and swirling in the flow of pretty fabrics and loves to play with dolls, loves to dance both ballet and Pow Wow dancing. The story is based on the childhood experiences of the authors son, Phoenix. whose family helped him learn about Two Spirit/ Niizh Manidoowag people in Anishnaabe culture, who think and feel like both girls and boys. Family acceptance helps Phoenix to feel special and feel loved  for exactly who he is.  

“In our Anishinabe culture there are Two Spirit people…That makes you extra special because you think and feel like both boys and girls.” 


A SKY-BLUE BENCH  by Bahram Rahman; illus. Peggy Collins

A young girl in Afghanistan is worried about sitting all day on the hard floor of her classroom with her new prosthetic leg. 

“It was right before dawn when a brave new idea came into her mind. ‘I’ll build myself a bench. surely that will help.”

Congratulations to Bahram Rahman, Peggy Collins and Pajama Press for the 2022  honour winner of The Schneider Family Book Award, for books that emobody an artistic expression of the disability experience for children (Young Children category)

 

RUNS WITH STARS by Darcy Whitecrow and Heather M. O’Connor; illus. Lenny Lishcenko

When a  young girl a await the birth of a new foal, she listens to her grandfather’s stories about a time when horses once ran wild and free.With his own small herd, grandfather hopes to keep the breed alive for future generations.    This is the story of the Ojibwe Horse, the only Indigenous-bred horse in Canada.  It is a story about the loving bond between animals and humans.

“My grandfather has eight Ojibwe Horses. I love them all, but Star is special. She is seven, like me. We were born on the same day.

SUN IN THE TUMMY by Laura Alary; illus.Andrea Blinick

Soil+seeds+oats+rain+ blueberry bushes+ blossoms+ green leaves+sweet sugar+the milk from a cow = SUN IN THE TUMMY, a delightful breakfast made from sunshine. A free verse narrative, mixed media illustrations take readers from the fields of the farms to the sky and back.  An informative book describing the chemistry of how plants turn air and water and sunlight into food.  A brilliant example of nonfiction narrrative. 

“Clouds. Rain. Soil. Sun. They’re hard to see. But look deeper. Everything is there. “

 

WONDER WALKERS by Micha Archer

Two friends decide to go on a wonder walk and take a journey into the mysteries of nature. A beautiful list poem of questions that ignites the world of imagination, curiosity and the joys and wonders of nature. Wow! to the collage illustrations. (A Caldecott Honor Book, 2022).

“Do mountains have bones? 

Are forests the mountain’s fur?”  

 

SHOUT OUT

ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS AND WILL BE SO MUCH MORE

by Johanna Schaible

This book is a journey through TIME. This book might not take very long to read, but it invites contemplation, reflection and wondering. It demands pauses along the journey through time from billions of years ago, to a moment ago, to days months, and years into the future.With each page turn, the pages become smaller, until they reach the present moment in the middle of the book. The pages then grown larger again as time expands into a future full of possibilities.  The one line text on each page may seem simple but the somewhat surreal and sometimes abstract background images astound. A book that ignites response about the past, the present and the future.  Get into groups and discuss…

Excerpt

Where will you live in ten year’s time?

What will you discover when you’re grown up?

What sights will stay with you always?

Will you have children one day?

 

SHOUT OUT

PLATERO Y YO/ PLATERO AND I  by Juan Ramos Jimenez; illus. By Antonio Frasconi (1914/ 1957/1994)

Selected, translated and adapted from the Spanish by Myra Cohn Livingston and Joseph F. Dominguez

Juan Ramon Jimenez  wrote Platero y yo in 1914, a book of 138 chapters telling stories of the wanderings of a man and his donkey through Moguer, a small Andalusian village in the south of Spain. In this bilingual edition, 19 stories appear in both Spanish and English , accompanied by woodcut illustrations. Poet Myra Cohn Livingston has selected and translated these stories for their content and appeal format. I am assured that Ms. Livingston has expertly captured the cadence and rhthym of the poetic Spanish.  Each story is no longer than one page, each captured in exquisite language and heartfelt narrative, painting a strong picture of village folk of countryside and the strong bond of a man and his donkey. A treasure.  

Excerpt (from “The Death of a Canary”)

The moon is full now; it sheds a pale silver light in Bianca’s hand, white as a snowfall, the poor soft singer will appear to be nothing more than a sad and withered petal, fallen from a yellow lily in the garden, and we will bury him there beneath the large rosebush. 

SHOUT OUT

TIME TO SHINE: Celebrating the World’s Iridescent Animals

Karen Jameson and illustrated by Dave Murray (Groundwood Press)

In rhythmic, rhyming couplets,  Karen Jameson shines a light on the world of iridescence in nature, taking readers across the globe to meet exotic animals, whose colours can change depending on the angle from which they are viewed. We learn about the shining green flying ‘cap’ of the mallard duck, the reed frog’s reflecting ‘vest’ and the hummingbird’s sequinned ‘costume’. Accompanying prose text on each spread provides further context for the particular environment and adaptation of each animal. Illustrator, Dave Murray, provides a vibrant palette of jewel-like colours of bird feathers

 

SHOUT OUT

WATERCRESS by Andrea Wang; illus. Jason Chin

Winner of the Caldecott Medal, 2022

The family of a young girl stops alongside the road to pick watercress which inspires a tender memory story of life in China, inspired by the author’s story.

“I look from my uncle’s hollow face to the watercress on the table and I am ashamed of being ashamed of my family.”

 

Great 2022 books: Ages 11+

The  13 titles listed below specifically for ages 10-14 are TERRIFIC! It was a bit of a challenge to choose only 4 books that deserve special ‘shout out’ recognition since each of these selections have great appeal and are certainly worthy of getting into the hands (and minds) of Middle Age Readers (and others). 

 

SHOUT OUT

AIN’T BURNED ALL THE BRIGHT by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin (ages 12+)



Jason Reynolds is a popular – important – author of books for young people. I always look forward to a new title by this award-winning author. Ain’t Burned All the Bright is targeted for teens. but it is a book for those inside and beyond adolesence.  From the book jacket: “this firece-vulnerable-brilliant-terrifying-whaiswrongwithhumans-hopefilled, hopeful-tender-heartbreaking-heartmaking manifesto on what it means not to be able to  breathe, and how the people and things at your fingertips are actually the oxygen you most need.” I stand on the line to say that this is the best book produced this year, YA, or not. It is a marriage of two artists creating a ‘manifesto’ of Black Lives Matter, of the Pandemic, of Climate Change. For me the book is  is about the need to take a deep breath in times of trouble. The book is divided into three Sections: Breath One; Breath Two; Breath Three and each section is one sentence written by the brilliant Mr. Reynolds. The multi-media art work is fiery and explosive and evocative of the words. There is art in Jason Reynold’s poetry. There is poetry in Mr. Griffin’s art (I would love to own any one of these illustrations).The formatting and production value deserves special kudos. 

If I had buckets of money, i would make sure that every black teenager owned a copy of this exquisite book Heck, make that ALL teenagers. They may not immediately ‘get it’ but let the book sit on a shelf, let them return to it in a week, in a decade ahead. Let them turn to a friend and share what they did get out of it, how they connected to the book, and how the book raised questions for them about their identity, race, climate,. The book invites them pay attention to what they see/ hear on the news,  to slow down and consider what is going on in the minds of their family and friends and to think about what is happening in their today world. The book is dedicated “For everyone we lost and everything we learned in the strangest year of our lives – 2020.

It will take not so very many minutes to go through this book, page by page. It will invite re-reading immediately and in days ahead. It will foster reflection as readers make meaning and think about what is happening in their head and heart.  Thank you , thank you J&J for this  special work of ART.

A masterpiece. 

Excerpt (opening)

 

I’m sitting here wondering shy

my mother wont’ change the channel

and why the news won’t 

change the story

and why the story won’t change into something new

instead of the every-hour rerun

about how we won’t change the world

or the way we treat the world

 

FRIENDS FOREVER by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham (graphic memoir)

This is the third book in the trilogy (Real Friends; Best Friends) where the author brings her middle years days to life. In this book, Shannon is in grade 8 and the events, relationships and BIG emotions are drawn directly from her life experiences as a thirteen- year old, where like many young people growing into adolescences, goes through many physical and psychological changes with a sharpened awareness of who they are and who they might want to be. Tweenagers will absolutely identify with Shannon as they take part in her Junior High Classes, wonder with her in her bedroom, delight in outings with friends and of course, interactions with ‘boys’.  Shannon has no problem joining clubs, campaigning for school president, and making friends, but as the book unfolds (and from author’s notes) we learn that she has mental health challenges living with undiagnosed anxiety disorder and mild obsessive compulsive disorder as she struggles with getting approval from those in her life and questions her worth and the meaning of happiness. We know, from the huge success of her terrific books that things turned out OK  for Shannon Hale, but gazing into the rear-view mirror into her life in the late 1980’s appeals and identifiable for the universal up and down world of being a young teenager.  A great read! (Will we meet you in high school?)

HOW TO FIND WHAT YOU’RE NOT LOOKING FOR by Veera Hiranandani

The author of The Night Diary tells the story of a twelve-year0ld girl, Ariel Goldberg, the only Jewish Girl in her grade six class. This is a story of a family with problems. Ari has s strong relationship with her older sister, Leah, who has eloped with a Raj, a Hindu man from India. This causes a great rift in the family, when Ari’s prejudicial parents refuse to have anything to do with their daughter. The family are proud owners of a Connecticut bakery named Gertie’s which is facing financial trouble. Being diagnosed with a learning disability (dysgraphia, a writing disability), encounters with an Antisemitic boy in her class, and keeping the poems that she writes hidden from others, add Ari’s  problems but when she learns that her sister is expecting a baby she is more determined to reunite and to bring the family together. This story takes place in the late 1960’s and the Vietnam War, the Loving v. Virginia, Supreme court decision banning interracial marriage is declared unconstitutional and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. are significant events that today’s readers can learn about.  The narration is intriguing with the use of second person narrative. (“You walk over to the flowers in the garbage and pluck out the largest rose. You put your nose in the centre of the flower and breathe.”)A beautiful story about conquering prejudice, family bonds and finding who you are and what you’re not looking for. 

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DAD by Gary Paulsen (2021)

Carl lives alone in a trailer with his unusual, quirky, resourceful dumpster-seeking, garage-sale loving, father. Its time, Carl thinks for things to change and when he discovers a puppy-training pamphlet, he is determined to make changes. This is a funny side – a very funny side of Gary Paulsen as he details  the comical adventures that Carl Hemesvedt experiences (along with his pitbull dog, Carol  and his best friend Pooder.  And if he doesn’t transform his dad, SP (‘Subject Puppy’) into a more stable lifestyle, how will Carl ever impress, Peggy, the girl of his dreams. Paulsen sure knows how to create farcical cinematic scenes and  indeed how to paint a good picture of characters 

Excerpt (page129)

“Pink-bibbed, poop-covered, straw-hatted, red-eared-and-nosed, your basic complete clown costume – headed for the dumpster riding shotgun in a beat-up more-than-half-a-century old truck next to a pit book that kept smiling at me while she studied my right eye.” 

THE LAST  CUENTISTA by Donna Barba Higuera

This is a wonderful wonderful novel that I didn’t very much enjoy reading. Disclaimer: Science Fiction is not my genre of choice and this one is a remarkable piece of Science Fiction writing that is certain to quench the thirst of 10- 14 year olds eager for books set in the future.  When the planet Earth is destroyed by a comet, Petra’s family has been chosen for a mission to begin life anew on a new plant. But the aboard the spaceship, the sinister Collective  wants to take over and control the destiny of humanity – no matter the cost to human lives. I continued to read this book because of the fact that it was the Newbery Award winner 2022 and because the power of holding on to our memories and our stories was an important theme throughout the b0ok. Any story that promotes story intrigues me, so I hung on. But I was very aware that I was reading this book differently than other novels I choose to read. I found myself rereading sentences more than once, I was stumped by invented/scientific vocabulary thus stretching my inference skills, I did lots and lots of visualizing and lots of lots of questioning but the narrative didn’t always come as clear to me as it likely would a devoted Science Fiction reader.  I asked myself: ‘Why am I continue to dig through this book I’m not enjoying the experience and I have piles of titles awaiting me?’ I also wondered about my Bill of Right not to defend my tastes (thank you, Daniel Pennac). Congratulations to Donna Barba Higuera for a fantastic journey to a new planet, for providing us with a character who carries stories of the past drawn from Mexican folklore, given to  PetraMexican abuelita, for serving the world of children’s literature a compelling, engrossing Science Fiction read. 

Excerpts

A mountain-lion roar drowns out the computer’s voice. Metal clanks like a rattling silverware drawer for a long time, before it stops and levels off into a steady purr. “Gravity shell activated,” the ship’s voice says, meaning we’ve moved beyond Earth’s atmosphere. (page49)

The Corposcope speaks in rigid tone:Ocular disease. Diagnosis: retinitis pigmentosa.” (page 80)

Rubio pokes his finger at a creeping green glow. “Interesting. It’s difficult to observe if its chemiluminescent vertebrae or bioluminescent bacteria.” He pulls the atmospheric reader out of his bag. “This may take a while __” (page 286)

THE MANY MEANINGS OF MEILAN by Andrea Wang

Andrea Wang (winner of the Caldecott Medal for her book Watercress) has written a mighty book about anpre-teen Asian girl who struggles to find a place of belonging while holding on Chinese identity. When her family is forced to move from Boston’s Chinatown to small town in Ohio. she meets injustice and racism heads-on. Her first encounter with the principal of her new school lets Meilan know what she’s in for when he claims that is best to not use her Chinese name and from now on should be known as Melanie.  But there are many meanings of Meilan, each inspired by a different Chinese character with the same pronunciation of her name (i.e., Mist, Basket, Blue).  Meilan holds on to each part of her self as she befriends a boy named Logan, as she embarks upon a school Veteran’s Day project, as she learns about her grandfather’s past as he tries to support her parents as they adjust to a new. When she is accused of destroying school property, she is determined to return to her old home in Chinatown where she felt a place of belonging with family members.  Throughout the book, the adults speak in Mandarin, mostly providing Meilan with Chinese proverbs to bring wisdom. Highly recommended. 

“i’ve gone to Chinatown schools all my life, surrounded by Asian, Black, and brown faces. I never imagined there could still be classes like this one, where I’m one drop of paint on a white canvas.” (page 69)

 

NORTHWIND  by Gary Paulsen

After reading Hatchet, The Island, The Winter Room and Dogsong, and other coming of age narratives, I knew that Gary Paulsen was a very favourite author of mine and over the years, I think I’ve any purchased new Paulsen releases in hardback. I’ve got quite a lovely collection. Years ago, at a conference I lined up at a table at a Language Arts conference to have Mr. Paulsen sign one of his books (his autobiography Eastern Sun, Western Moon). What do you say to a guy who’s writing you so admire. As I handed the book over to him (he in denim, me in a smart navy blazer), I uttered, “Mr. Paulsen,  you are my hero.” He signed the book, ‘To Larry, Also a hero.” Sadly, Gary Paulsen passed away at the age of  82 on October 13, 2021.  This weekend I spent time with his final published title, Northwind, the story set centuries ago, telling the story of a young teenager’s battle to survive against the odds. A small plague (cholera) has struck the fishing camp and Leif is forced to journey in. cedar dugout canoe, northward. Leif is challenged with finding food, meeting bears, whales, ravens and eagles,  going through wild fiords,  conquering crashing waves, always connecting to the ‘hearbeat of the ocean’. Like Brian in Hatchet, Leif, struggles to live with nature, combat nature and survive and grow up. The episodes of boat survival are drawn from the author’s personal adventures – and what adventures they are. The natural world is so inside the author’s soul and when describing Leif’s quest, he writes, “It’s as if the outside had become his inside.” True that for the character, for the brilliant author. As I write these words, I am getting goosebumps, because I realized that Gary Paulsen took me  – and millions of readers  – outside to worlds we might never encounter except in books. Mr. Paulsen, you are a hero. 

Excerpt (page 196)

That simple. 

You lived or you died.

And in between the two, if you kept your mind open and aware and listened and smelled…

In between you learned. 

OUT OF MY HEART by Sharon M. Draper

Readers first met supersmart Melody, a girl who can’t walk, or can’t talk because she has cerebral palsy, in the novel Out of My Mind. In this sequel, Melody is a year older and when she learns about a summer camp for young people with Special Needs she sets her mind to going and convinces her parents that everything will be ok. Readers accompany Melody on her camp adventures that include swimming in a pool, a boat cruse, a hike in the woods, creating art, horseback riding, balloon soccer and zip-lining. The topper seems to be dancing with a boy that she has quickly grown fond of.  Melody approaches each new venture with both scepticism and bravery and happily grows into the experience of enjoying friendships, freedom and maturing. It is a book of possibilities, discoveries and maturing which many tweenagers experience but when life is lived in a wheelchair, it is especially uplifting arousing compassion and cheers for this remarkable character. Thank you Sharon M. Draper for this fine sequel that re-introduces Melody Brooks and opens our our minds and hearts to her world.

RED, WHITE, and WHOLE by Rajani LaRocca

It is 1983, and she’s thirteen and Reha is a girl who just wants to have fun. However, Rhea feels somewhat disconnected because she has ‘two lives One that is Indian and one that is not’. Reha is devoted to her mother and father but feels that her parents have different values about how a thirteen year old should behave. Reha is a bright, talented girl, who has dreams of becoming a doctor even though she feels woozy when encountering blood.  What a beautiful book, a story that will resonate for many students who feel that they are torn between two worlds because of their culture, a story that will touch the heart of many readers because of the way it deals with a parent dying of cancer. The book is told in free-verse style which perfectly suits the questioning, reflective voice of the character while highlighting the narrative events that take place in the home, at school and in a hospital. A Newbery Honor book, 2022.  Well-deserved.  

Excerpt (page 2)

I am Reha,

born in a pool of my mother’s blood,

proper, prim, obediently alive

as she lies close to death. 

SHOUT OUT

STEP by Deborah Ellis

I received an Advanced Reading Copy of Deborah Ellis’s STEP short story collection featuring characters from around the world who on the occasion of turning 11 years old who are each connected to family, friends or community and consider how their 11th birthday marks the first day of the rest of their lives as they STEP forward into a life of independence and change. A boy walks a dog, a girl takes a camping trip on her own, a boy volunteers in a soup kitchen, a boy learns that his father is a Neo Nazi, a  girl is hopeful of survival while sailing on a rubber raft with other refugees. Remarkable stories,  each with a one word title (e.g. Smash, Alone, Rock, Rubber, Shoes) guaranteed to inspire compassion and connection, reflection and hope for middle years readers. 

All royalties from the sale fo STEP will be donated to the United Nations High Commissioner or Refugees (UNHCR) which works to aid and protect people forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict and persecution. 

excerpt rom Story #8: “Free”

Then we stepped through the gate.

And into the land of the free.

PAX: JOURNEY HOME by Sara Pennypacker; illus. Jon Klassen

This is a sequel to Pennypacker’s wonderful novel, Pax that told the story of the bonding of a boy and his pet fox. In this book, we Pax is now a father and is devoted to loving his kits. Thirteen-year-old Peter is struggling with grief over the loss of his mother and his father and is unwilling to let love enter his life. Peter leaves his adopted home with Vola to join the Water Warriors whose mission involves the healing of the land and water contamination. The book is told in alternating narratives of Peter and Pax, each on a journey.  When Pax’s daughter falls ill, he ends up relying on Peter for salvation. Pennypacker’s writing is exquisite and she does an expert job of drawing on events and relationships from the first book.  In particular, the final section of the book is more than just an adventure as the two narratives intertwine. The final pages  arouse emotion as Peter lifts the stones of his heart to rid himself of past guilt, coming to the realization that he is not alone and as a father fox makes a strong sacrifice for the sake of family and love.  As sequels go, this one is sublime. 

WHEN WINTER ROBESON CAME by Brenda Woods

Winter (so-named because he was born on the first day of winter) is from Mississippi visiting his cousin Eden’s family in Los Angeles. Winter makes a list of things he’d like to accomplish in his life and #1 on his listen is to find out who disappeared ten years earlier of L.A. Eden and Winter become detectives to find the whereabouts of J.T. Robeson. It is August 1965 and the world of Black citizens explodes in clashes with the police in Watts an area predominately Black. Spoiler alert: Winter and his father are united (about 1/2 way the novel). Though this is a joyful reunion, the turmoil of the Watts Rebellion that lasted for 6 days hangs heavy on Winter, Eden and their neighbours. Brenda Woods, through fiction, through free verse style brings a stark incident from the past to contemporary readers, who would perhaps connect the riots from  over 50 years ago to current turmoil with police and the Black Lives Matter movement.  

SHOUT OUT

TIGER, TIGER BURNING BRIGHT,  A poetry collection

edited by Fiona Waters; Illustrated by Britta Teckentrup

This remarkable anthology presents “An Animal Poem for Each Day of the Year”.  Imagine 365 poems by international authors. The poems can be read, day-by-day (I read the book in 12 days, digging into each month OR can be dipped into by choosing poem by length, by poet or of course by choice of animal you wish to meet. Sometimes there is one poem to fill a two-page spread, sometimes two or three poems about the same animal.  If a poem-a-day was read to, with or by a young person, imagine the literacy immersion ignited by each piece. A sea of poetic forms, vocabulary, information, puzzlements and imagination.. As with any poetry collection of this sort, some works may be mystifying, some sparking chuckles, some providing comfort and some activating prior knowledge, prior experience and connections to the world of no-legged, two-legged, four-legged, many legged creatures. This book is a gift. (and will be a gift). If I had my own classroom, there would be no need to plan poetry curriculum. Each poem is a lesson in word power, in meaning-making and wonder. And each of Britta Teckentrupss astonishing illustrations is visit to the art gallery. 365 Poems to ponder, to treasure.  WOW!

The Small Brown Bear (April 29th) by Michael Baldwin.                            Baby Orangutan (February 26th) by Helen Dunmore

The small brown bear.                                                                                           Bold flare of orange-

fishes                                                                                                                          a struck match

with stony paws                                                                                                       against his mother’s breast

eating ice salmon

all waterfall slippery                                                                                                he listens to her heartbeat

till his teeth ache.                                                                                                      going yes yes yes

 

AWARD WINNERS: Children’s Literature

This posting features an outline of some recent award winning Children’s Literature titles. Sometimes an award label is a great motivator for digging into a book. Sometimes not. (see article referenced below)

 

THE LAST  CUENTISTA by Donna Barba Higuera

winner of the Newbery Medal 2022

When the planet Earth is destroyed by a comet, Petra’s family has been chosen for a mission to begin life anew on a new plant. But the aboard the spaceship, the sinister Collective  wants to take over and control the destiny of humanity – no matter the cost to human lives.  Congratulations to Donna Barba Higuera for a fantastic journey to a new planet, for providing us with a character who carries stories of the past drawn from Mexican folklore, given to  PetraMexican abuelita, for serving the world of children’s literature a compelling, engrossing Science Fiction read. 

“A mountain-lion roar drowns out the computer’s voice. Metal clanks like a rattling silverware drawer for a long time, before it stops and levels off into a steady purr. “Gravity shell activated,” the ship’s voice says, meaning we’ve moved beyond Earth’s atmosphere.” (page49)

LAST NIGHT AT THE TELEGRAPH CLUB by Malindo Lo (YA)

Winner of the National Book Award, 2021, Young People’s Literature

It is 1954,  Is it safe for two girls to fall in love, especially in Chinatown, San Francisco.

“Lily was thirtee, and she couldn’t remmber if she’d seen a group of Chinese girls like this before: in bathing suits and high heel,s their hair and makeup perfectly done. They looked so American.” (prologue)

THE LIBRARY BUS by Bahram Rahman; illus. Gabriele Grimard
Winner of the 2021 Middle East Book Award, Picture book category

In Kabul, Afghanistan, the library bus, with no bus seats, but chairs and tables and shelves and shelves of books, Pari becomes her mother’s helper and yearns to go to school to learn English, and join other Afghan girls who are in pursuit of education.  

“Pari, when you go to school next year, I want you to study hard. Never stop learning. Then you will be free,. Tell me now,” she adds with a wink, ‘how does learning make you feel?”

OUR LITTLE KITCHEN Written and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

Winner of Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, 2021

Resourceful neighbours come together revery Wednesday to prepare meals from garden produce and make a difference for those suffering from housing and economic insecurity.

A SKY-BLUE BENCH  by Bahram Rahman; illus. Peggy Collins

Congratulations to Bahram Rahman, Peggy Collins and Pajama Press for the 2022  honour winner of The Schneider Family Book Award, for books that emobody an artistic expression of the disability experience for children (Young Children category)

A young girl in Afghanistan is worried about sitting all day on the hard floor of her classroom with her new prosthetic leg. 

“It was right before dawn when a brave new idea came into her mind. ‘I’ll build myself a bench. surely that will help.”

WATERCRESS by Andrea Wang; illus. Jason Chin

Caldecott Medal Winner, 2022

The family of a young girl stops alongside the road to pick watercress which inspires a tender memory story of life in China, inspired by the author’s story.

“I look from my uncle’s hollow face to the watercress on the table and I am ashamed of being ashamed of my family.”

 

Caldecott Winners, Announced January 24, 2022

Medal: Watercress by Andrea Wang; illus. Jason Chin

Honor Books:  Have You Ever Seen a Flower? by Shawn Harris

                           Mel Fell by Corey R. Tabor

                           Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carol Boston Weatherford; illus. Floyd Cooper

                           Wonder Walkers by Micah Archer

Newbery Winners, Announced January 24, 2022

Medal: The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera

Honor Books: Red, White and Whole by Rajani  LaRocca

                          A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger

                          Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff

                          Watercress by Andrea Wang; illus. Jason Chin

 

SIX WINNERS FOR THE 2021, CANADIAN CHILDREN’S BOOK CENTRE PRIZES

(announced on Friday October 29th):

  • The Barnabus Project, written and illustrated by Terry Fan, Eric Fan and Devin Fan (Tundra Books), won the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award ($50,000)
  • Our Little Kitchen, written and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki (Groundwood Books), won the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award ($20,000)
  • Powwow: A Celebration Through Song and Dance, written by Karen Pheasant-Neganigwane (Orca Book Publishers), won the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non‐Fiction ($10,000)
  • The Paper Girl of Paris, written by Jordyn Taylor (HarperTeen), won the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People ($5,000)
  • Facing the Sun, written by Janice Lynn Mather (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), won the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award ($5,000)
  • No Vacancy, written by Tziporah Cohen (Groundwood Books), won the Jean Little First-Novel Award ($5,000)

FYI: Article: 100 years of the Newbery Award

The Newbery Medal is 100. It smuggled some real duds onto our library shelves.  by Sara L, Schwebel and Jocelyn Van Tuyl

SLATE: January 21, 2022

This article presents a fine overview of the impact of awards by considering the past, the present and future winners. 

https://slate.com/culture/2022/01/newbery-award-100-racism-childrens-books.html?sid=5388d0c3dd52b8417a009fdb&email=a389424e6f9bc53e3a28af8e80184c0b241f3925a8dd264f279dde82f868c161&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_content=TheSlatest&utm_campaign=traffic

>>>>>>> <<<<<<<<

There’s no Dr. Larry Awards but these two lists shine a light on some of my favourite children’s literature titles, 2021

PICTURE BOOKS

A KID IS A KID IS A KID by Sara O’Leary; illus. Qin Leng
MILO IMAGINES THE WORLD by Matt de la Pena; Illus Christian Robinson
OUR LITTLE KITCHEN by Jillian Tamaki

UNSPEAKABLE: The Tulsa Race Massacre  Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. Floyd Cooper
WE ALL PLAY by Julie Flett

MIDDLE YEARS NOVELS

THE BEATRYCE PROPHECY by Kate DiCamillo
BURYING THE MOON by Andree Poulin; illus, Sonali Zohra
GROUND ZERO BY Alan Gratz
LINKED by Gordon Korman

YUSUF AZEEM IS NOT A HERO by Saadia Faruqi

Middle Years Titles Dr. Larry Read in December

Many of the Middle Years novels I choose to recently read are framed by understanding of social justice, diversity and equity issues. The 12 titles listed below provide readers with insights into differences, economic, socially and culturally. Each book is about young people finding a place of belonging.

 

ALINA IN A PINCH by Shenaaz Nanji (Racism)

Alina has moved to a new school and is teased because of the lunches she brings.  When Alina’s parents are forced to travel to Africa, her grandmother comes to take care of her and the two enjoy cooking Afro-Indian meals together. From her Nani, Alina learns that ‘we are all the same, yet different: ‘different colored balloons flying under one sky… Each of us has hopes, fears., and dreams. We all want to be love and to be accepted.” Alina is determined to find the cruel bully culprit who makes fun of her. She is also determined to audition for the Junior Chef competition by creating a healthy treat. This chapter book will guide readers into diversity and equity and acceptance… and not just because of the food we eat. 

THE CASE OF THE BURGLED BUNDLE by Michael Hutchinson (Indigenous)

This is the third book in the Mighty Muskrats Mystery Series by Cree author, Michael Hutchinson. A bundle ceremony is an Indigenous ritual in which the oral histories and philosophy of a nation are passed down through generations. “It is the experience that is the message”. In this novel, the author once again creates the fictional Windy Lake First Nation. The National Assembly of Cree Peoples has gathered together for a four-day-long ceremony and when the treaty bundle is stolen, the Might Muskrats, cousins Chickadee, Atim, Otter, and Sam set out to find the culprit(s). Hutchinson not only gives readers with an intriguing whodunnit, but provides rich detail and information of the Cree nation. 

FIREFLY by Philippa Dowding (Homelessness)

When Firefly’s drug-loving, baseball-bat-wielding mother has been taking to rehab, the young teenager is sent to her Aunt Gayle’s house which is certainly a better home than the park she’s been forced to live in. Aunt Gayle’s shop with seven million costumes adds a variety and colour to Firefly’s life as she strives to cope with a new school, a new home, and some new friends.   Firefly is a great character and one that readers will absolutely root for – and learn about resilience from. Winner of the 2021 Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature.

GANGSTA GRANNY STRIKES AGAIN by David Walliams, illustrated by Tony Ross 

At least once a year, a new title by David Walliams comes my way and I’m always quite pleased to add another hard-back edition to my DW bookshelf.  As always there’s a cast of wild characters: Mum, a ballroom-dancing superfan; Flavio Flavioli, heart-throb star of Strictly Stars Dancing; Mr, Parker, a nosy neighbour; Edna, resident of an old folk’s home who enjoys a good game of Scrabble and The Queen (yes, that Queen). There’s also  a wild plot (the theft of King Tut’s mask,  The Crown Jewels, The World Cup) and as always hilarious, outrageous,  inventive writing – and art. This book is the very first sequel from the world-famous author, a great fun-filled companion to Gangsta Granny. Will there be forthcoming companions to Demon Dentist, Awful Auntie, Billionaire Boy?

THE GENIUS UNDER THE TABLE: Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain; written and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin  (Anitsemitism)

An illustrated memoir of the author’s live in the Soviet Union. The story takes place in Leningrad in the 1970’s and Yevgeny lives with his family in one room of a communal apartment surrounded by a mixed-bag of neighbours Little Yevgeny sleeps under the dining table and is kept company with the one family pencil that belongs to his father. Each night the boy steals the pencil, covering the underside of the table with secret drawings. Although we don’t get to see beneath the table, Yelchin presents drawings that bring characters life with humour. The family is under the oppressive situation as Jews under Communism (the father is obsessed with Russian poetry; the mother is a fan of Mikhail Baryshnikov, brother Victor is a star figure skater and young Yevegny struggles to survive amongst  political demands bu escaping through his art and thriving and surviving ‘under the table.’ A very funny and poignant story.  I enjoyed this book a lot, but  I am not sure what young people would make of a childhood story in Cold War Russia, of the defection of a Russian ballet dancer and Jews who were considered to be enemies of the people. 

A KIND OF SPARK by Elle NcNicoll (Autism)

Addie is autistic. She is not a girl with autism – she is autistic (as is one of her older sisters). When Addie learns about he witch trials that took place in her hometown in Scotland, she is determined to find out the truThis is a remarkable story of family and identity and resilience centred on a girl who know exactly who she is and is able to rise above all those who think that she is oddly different.th of who these ‘witches’ really were and even more convinced that the town needs to establish a memorial for these ‘outsiders’.  This book was voted the 2021 Waterstone’s the children’s book of the year. It is deserved of the recognition. 

THE PANTS PROJECT by Cat Clarke (Homophobia / Transgender Issues)

Liv (Olivia) has entered a new school and is upset with the school uniform rule that states that girls must wear pants. This is a big problem for Liv because even though he was born a girl, he was definitely a boy. With the help a new-found friend he is on a mission to challenge the dress code and change the mind of the school administration – and the mean girls who bully her. Liv is likeable Trans hero and Cat Clarke has presented an engaging novel that examines fickle friendships, faithful families and  LGBTQ issues.

RED WOLF by Jennifer Dance (Indigenous / Residential Schools)

At a very young age, Red Wolf is forced to attend a residential school far from the life he knows.  The author paints a stark and unsettling/ brutal portrait of life for Indigenous children taken away from their families under the Indian Act of 1876. The fear alienation and powerlessness of thousands of First Nation children. The story is balanced by the narrative of Crooked Ear, a wolf being forced from the land who throughout the story helps Red Wolf to survive. The author has a passion for equality and justice and as a non-native has dedicated her writing and research to presents a vivid and informative portrait of Anishnaabe, language, beliefs and culture. Other titles by the author: Paint; Hawk.

ROOM TO DREAM by Kelly Yang (Chinese family; Big business, Friendships)

This is the third book in a trilogy by Asian American author Kelly Yang. Mia Tan is  wise, feisty character who has proved herself to be a determined young girl growing up in California in the 1990’s. Mia’s adventures are drawn from the author’s personal experiences of her family’s immigration to America where they acquired The Calivista Motel in Anahiem and where Mia took charge sitting at the Front Desk. In Three Keys, Mia and her friends fight for immigration rights when they learn that In this new book, Mia and her family take a vacation to Beijing, China where she reunites with her cousins and grandparents and witnesses big changes that the country is going home. Big changes are also happening in Anaheim California where a conglomerate wants to take over The Calivista and offers big money to turn the modest motel into a boutique hotel. Mia isn’t going to stand for that and once again puts up a strong fight to do what she feels is right. Room To Dream is also a story of friendships and loyalty. Mia’s best friend, Lupe is taken classes at the high school and Jason is determined to win the cooking championship for young people.  As a young tweenager, Mia is also learning about infatuation (and a first kiss). A strong feature of this novel is the fact that Mia has been chosen to write a weekly column, Diary of a Young American Girl,  for the China Kids Gazette  about life as a middle school student. These columns (based on the author’s own experiences) become very popular in China. In the novel, these publications are  being kept a secret from Mia’s California friends which causes more problems for Mia. Throughout the book, we get to read Mia’s columns, helping gain insights into Mia’s life, the turbulence of being a teenager and the importance finding a room to dream.  Kelly Yang is a terrific author. This is a terrific book. 

STUNTBOY: IN THE MEANTIME by Jason Reynolds; drawings by Raul the Third (Social Class; Bullying)

Any newly released book by Jason Reynolds puts a smile on my face. This book takes Reynolds into a somewhat different direction with a wildly episodic, funny, fantasy and reality adventure. In order to deal with his FRETS (anxieties/ ang-ZY-uh-tee), Portico Reeves invents himself into a Stuntboy superhero (at least in his own head) where he can help conquer bad things from happening to those in his neighbourhood. But even a superhero doesn’t have the power to solve the impending separation of mother and father and the arguments (ARGH -uments) they have about dividing property.  Meet a cast of wild characters who live in an apartment building called Skylight Gardens “where behind every door is a new TV show”. A best friend named  Zola, a bully villain named Herbert Singletary the Worst, a cat named “A New Name Every Day”, graphic episodes of a television series named “Super Space Warriors”, commercial breaks (e.g., How To Tell Your Cat is Scared)  add to the mix of Stuntboy’s quest to save himself (and others). The dynamo art work by Raul the Third are splashed throughout both in black and white (sometimes blue) drawings as well as colourful graphic art. This is a hybrid of text and illustration sure to enthral middle-age readers when reading this book (and companion titles to come). 

WHEN FISHES FLEW: The Story of Elena’s War by Michael Morpurgo, illus. George Butler (Refugee experience)

When she finishes high school, Nandi, travels from her home in Australia to Ithaca to learn about her heritage. Most of all she wants to learn the true story of her great aunt Elena, her marriage and how she became an unsung hero of WW II. When Nandi arrives on the island she learns that her beloved aunt has disappeared and Nandi becomes even more determined to learn about who her aunt truly is and why she’s being considered a hero by all the citizens of Ithaca. It is through the friendship of an unusual flying fish that Nandi learns the truth Greek history of her Aunt Elena’s heroism.  Morpurgo is forever a master storyteller and this newest title stands brightly on this author’s bookshelf. 

WHEN THE SKY FALLS by Phil Earle (War; Animal Rights)

The setting is 1941, WWII, Britain. The skies are filled with bombers and there is destruction everywhere. Joseph an angry boy sent to live with Mrs. F. a somewhat cantankerous woman who doesn’t seem to be too fond of children.  Amidst the chaos, Mrs. F. is responsible for the upkeep of the zoo and the care of any remaining animals, especially, Adonis, he mighty silverback gorilla. Over time, each character digs into the truths of their past, each story filled with sorrow and grief. Over time, bonds between the two troubled characters deepen. The sites, smells and sounds of a war-torn city are starkly -and cinematically portrayed.  The climax of the story is as harrowing as any can be found in a novel for young people.  A gripping, compassionate read.  

LARRY’S LIST OF FAVOURITES 2021

Items, narrowed down to five, are listed alphabetically, by title.

PICTURE BOOKS

A KID IS A KID IS A KID by Sara O’Leary; illus. Qin Leng
MILO IMAGINES THE WORLD by Matt de la Pena; Illus Christian Robinson
OUR LITTLE KITCHEN by Jillian Tamaki

UNSPEAKABLE: The Tulsa Race Massacre  Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. Floyd Cooper
WE ALL PLAY by Julie Flett

MIDDLE YEARS NOVELS

THE BEATRYCE PROPHECY by Kate DiCamillo
BURYING THE MOON by Andree Poulin; illus, Sonali Zohra
GROUND ZERO BY Alan Gratz
LINKED by Gordon Korman
YUSUF AZEEM IS NOT A HERO by Saadia Faruqi

YA 

COUNT ME IN: 15 stories about immigration and finding home by Adi Alsaid (ed.0

EVERYTHING SAD IS UNTRUE (A True Story) by Daniel Nayeri
GONE TO THE WOODS: Surviving a Lost Childhood (biography) Gary Paulsen

UNDER THE IRON BRIDGE by Kathy Kacer
HERE THE WHOLE TIME Vitor Martins


GROWN-UP FICTION

THE ECHO CHAMBER by John Boyne
FIVE LITTLE INDIANS by Michelle Good
KLARA AND THE SUN by Kazuo Ishiguro
OH, WILLIAM by Elizabeth Strout
*SHUGGIE BAINE by Douglas Stuart

GROWN-UP NONFICTION

THE ANTHROPOCENE REVIEWED: Essays by John Green
IS THIS ANYTHING? by Jerry Seinfeld

PUTTING IT TOGETHER by James Lapine
TINY LOVE STORIES: True tales of love in 100 words or less by Daniel Jones & Miya Lee (eds.)
UNSTOPPABLE (biography of Siggi B. Wilzig) by Joshua M. Greene

MOVIES

BELFAST
DON’T LOOK UP
GUNDA
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
TICK… TICK… BOOM!

LIVE THEATRE

BLINDNESS (Toronto)
DANA H. (New York)
INTO THE WOODS (Talk is Free Theatre)
THREE TALL WOMEN (Stratford)
WEST MOON (Rising Tide Theatre, Newfoundland)


TV (series)

LANDSCAPERS
MUM
MARE OF EASTTOWN
SHTISEL (season 3)
SQUID GAME

CD’s (yes, CD’s)
 
TONY BENETT & LADY GAGA / Love for Sale

KEITH JARETT / The Melody At Night, With You

DIANE KRALL / This Dream of Y0u

STING / Duets

BILLY TIPTON / Jazz 1955


OTHER

CHRIS BOTTI CONCERT (Roy Thomson Hall)

CONSTELLATIONS (Donmar Streaming) with Omari Douglas & Russell Tovey

FIRE BURN UP MY BONES (Met Live Opera)

FOLLIES (Concert / Koerner Hall)

MATTHEW BOURNE’S “THE NUTCRACKER” (Sadler’s Wells, London)

FALL: Titles for GROWN-UPS

Quite a range in these 10 books that includes two award-winners, one poetry collection, one script, and two by favourite authors (John Boyne, Elizabeth Strout). 

ALEC by William Di Canzio

The author re-imagines the E.M Forester classic book Maurice, and provides new narratives for Maurice and Alec, iconic gay lovers who fell in love with determination, courage and passion. Di Canzio invents a past for the gamekeeper (Alec) and the upper- class Maurice Hall and follows their lives through their courtship, front lines of battle and family issues. This book could be read as a stand alone (I’m curious to re-read the Forster novel) but oh-what a clever feat to bring these iconic queer characters back to life for a now generation.

AFTER LEAVING MR. MACKENZIE by Jean Rhys

Alan Cumming claimed in the New York Times that this was slim novel was one of his all-time favourite reads and so I decided to acquire copy of this 1931 title about a forlorn woman seeking adventure (and love) in interwar Paris and London.  Julia Martin is a sad sad soul who struggles to pay the rent, maintain a charming image, and depend on the kindness of strangers, after leaving Mr. Mackenzie.  This desperate character didn’t much appeal to me (Sorry, Mr. C) but it did keep me company on an overnight plane ride to London. 

CONTROLLED DAMAGE by Andrea Scott (script)

This play explores the life of Canadian icon Viola Desmond. The incident in a Nova Scotia movie theatre, where Viola was removed from the first floor seat, starts a ripple effect of racism, social justice, and civil rights.  First performed in Halifax, 2020, the play will have a production  performed  Grand Theatre in London Ontario in 2022. (and will likely be produced on Canadian stages in future years).

THE ECHO CHAMBER by John Boyne

Boyne is a favourite author of mine and I always look forward to a new release. I loved The Echo Chamber, but I realize that ot everyone will because the characters are not particularly likeable. This is a terrifically sharp satire on the age of social media and political correctness that we’re living in. I found the book to be very funny (often laugh-out-loud funny),  farcical (if you like that sort of thing) and I was totally intrigued with the life (in five days) of the unlikeable characters of the Cleverley family: George a television host, Beverley, a novelist, Nelson, a frustrated teacher, Elizabeth, addicted to twitter, and Achilles, a scam artist.  And an aged tortoise.  Be prepared to delve into a world of the privileged, Racism, Transphobia, lepers, a phantom pregnancy, a ghost writer, blackmail, speed dating, a Ukranian stud, cancel culture, gender bending, an aged tortoise who’s addicted to After Eight chocolates, and a big batch of lies. A great, fun read!

THE FOUR QUARTETS by T.S. Eliot (poetry)

I was inspired to read this book because I had booked a ticket to see a performance of the poems by Ralph Fiennes in London. Can’t pretend to have understand these spiritual, philosophical of the four linked works.  Something about the passing of time. Something about God. Something about nature. Was ok with the opening lines, “Time present and time past /are both present in time future/ And time future contained in time past” but got lost from page 6 onwards “Garlic and sapphires in the mud/Clot the bedded axle-tree” but I guess I can’t argue with the brilliance of T.S. Eliot. I rather preferred Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. I was thrilled to have seen Mr. Fiennes astonishing dramatization of The Four Quartets. Perhaps a re-read (and another re-read of the book might help. Perhaps. 

THE LISTENERS by Jordan Tannahill

I am fond of Jordan Tannahill’s work as a playwright and was pleased to dig into his new novel, short listed for a Giller prize. A middle-aged woman named Claire hears THE HUM, an incessant sound, that causes her mental and physical distress. Who else hears The Hum? How can she convince others (husband, daughter) that this is really happening? Will The Hum go away? What causes The Hum? When Claire, a high school English teacher discovers that one of her students is haunted by the same sound the plot thickens. Eventually Claire and Kyle fall into a group of neighbours who meet regularly for support, help and inquiry.  There is a thriller quality to this book, framed by a Science Fiction premise, but in the end it is a story of community, connecting, relationships and mental health.  A fine writer you are, Mr. Tannahill.  What a mind!

SHOUT OUT

OH WILLIAM by Elizabeth Strout.

We’ve met Lucy Barton previous titles by this special author (My Name is Lucy Barton; and Anything is Possible (short stories) and in this new novel, Lucy, an author, meets up with her ex-husband, William, and joins him on an adventure to uncover a family secret he just discovered. That summarizes the plot, but oh, how the author digs into emotions through a network of anecdotes drawn from memories of Lucy’s life as a young girl living in poverty, as a wife, mother, and widow. The author has conversations with her readers but moreover has therapy-like conversations with herself as she tries to make sense of the bonds that hold people together, the influence of the past on the present,  the things we know about ourselves, the things we are trying to figure out and the fact that ‘”we are all mythologies, mysterious. We are all mysteries”. Oh, Elizabeth, I so love your writing.  This is absolutely one of my favourite reads of 2021. 

POISON FOR BREAKFAST by Lemony Snicket

Make no mistake… this book is not targeted to the usual reader audience of 9 to 11 year olds who are enthralled with the author’s  Series of Unfortunate Events. I noticed this title in the children’s section of a local book store and the title Poison for Breakfast (and the author) enticed. The jacket blurb reads This book is “different from other books Mr. Snicket has written. It could be said to be a book of philosophy, something almost no one likes, but it is also a mystery, and many people claim to like those”. In the opening chapter the protagonist (the author) is enjoying his breakfast but then notices a note slipped under his door “You had poison for breakfast’. And thus begins a journey to uncover the mystery and the author sets out find some answers to the note – and to the meaning of life (and death). The word ‘bewildered’ appears on many pages and this is a book of bewilderment, rambling, literary references (I often returned to the notes  section at the end of the book) – and egg recipes. I noticed in tiny print that the book was printed by Penguin Teen Canada.  Grownups who have been inspired by Lemony Snicket may now want to meet up again with this author of adventures and bewilderment. 

THE PROMISE by Damon Galgut

Three funerals. Three decades. Three siblings. One family. One country. Told in 4 sections. Remarkable writing, with often out-of-synch narrative which tested my inference skills. Thought 269 pages, it too me somewhat longer to read than it should have but I hung in there and sometimes cared about the feckless older brother, the unhappy middle sister and the off-on-her own younger sister. The promise made to the  Swart’s family’s black maid Salome that she will be given property rights due to her, hangs over, but doesn’t seem to predominate, as the title might suggest. The politics of a changing South Africa hangs over the story, like the backdrop of a play, always there, sometimes deserved of attention. Winner of The Booker Prize 2021,

WHAT STRANGE PARADISE by Omar El Akkad

A powerful and vivid story of the refugee experience. The narrative is told in alternating chapters, alternating  time periods: Before (describing the experiences of migrant passengers on an ill-equipped boat) and After (the rescue  of a Syrian boy by a teenager)  The migration story is centred on Amir who is washed up on the shore of a small island. Omar El Akkad paints a vivid (and grim) portrait of those forced to flee and describes specific and dire circumstances they face aboard a vessel (Before). The relationship between Vanna and Amir,  complete strangers, adds a suspense to the narrative as Vanna attempts to save Amir from being caught (After).   Winner of the Giller Prize, 2022.  

PICTURE BOOKS: December 2021 / Social Justice Diversity and Equity

I am very fond of each and every picture book listed in this posting. Diverse books by diverse authors about diverse young people who make a difference.

 

BIRDS ON WISHBONE STREET by Suzanne Del Rizzo

Young Sami, who just arrived from Syria, isn’t quite ready to talk about his past until he is called upon to use his experiences taking care of birds.

“Does the new kid have stories from far away too?…Does he like churros, birds, and snow forts too?”

BORN ON THE WATER: THE 1619 Project by Nicole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson, illus. Nikkolas Smith

Grandma gathers the whole family together to learn about 1619, the time their Black ancestors were stolen and brought to America by European enslavers. Told in lyrical poetry. 

“They knew how to mix the old with the new,/ how even an ancient people always had more to learn.”

CHANGE SINGS by Amanda Gorman; illus. Loren Long

An inspirational poem by Presidential inaugural poet and activist,  Amanda Gorman

“I can hear change humming/ In its loudest, proudest song. I don’t fear change coming, And so I sing along.

G MY NAME IS GIRL by Dawn Masi

Girls from 26 countries from Argentina to Zambia are delightfully and thoughtfully celebrated in this A-to-Z tribute to global girlhood. 

“O my name is ORIT, and my teacher’s name is OMEMA. We come from OMAN and we are OUTSPOKEN.”

THE LONGEST STORM by Dan Yaccarino

A strange storm forces a family to stay inside and find a way for each member of the family to connect with one another, 

“Being home together like that all the time, felt strange. But soon it went from strange to bad, to worse.”

MY SKIN by Laura Henry-Allain Mbe; illus. Onyinye Iwu

A fine and clear introduction to race, racism and empowerment.

“if someone is racist to you, it is not your fault.”

RED AND GREEN AND BLUE AND WHITE by Lee Wind; illus. Paul O’ Zelinisky

Isaac’s family is Jewish and Teresa’s family is Christian. Both children look forward to the holiday season and have fun preparing for festivities until one night, someone smashes the window in Isaac’s house.

“Blue and white/ Menorah light/ From two homes tonight!”

A SKY-BLUE BENCH BY Bahram Rahman; illus. Peggy Collins

A young girl in Afghanistan is worried about sitting all day on the hard floor of her classroom with her new prosthetic leg. 

“It was right before dawn when a brave new idea came into her mind. ‘I’ll build mysefl a bench. surely that will help.”

THE SORRY LIFE OF TIMOTHY SHMOE by Stephanie Simpson McLellan; illus. Zoe Si

Timothy always causes trouble for everyone around him and his father has his son write letters of apology which Timothy does grudgingly. A story of mischief, anger and acceptance told mostly in letter format.

“Dear Great-Nanny Gough,

I’m sorry you got trapped in the corner when Mom went to buy milk. In my defences, no one told me our house is a little crooked.”

SOMETHING GOOD by Marcy Campbell; illus. Corinna Luyken

A school custodian finds something bad written on the bathroom wall . Who would do that? Why?

“We missed the days before the bad-something appeared, because everything was different now. Some of us felt worried or confused or sad or angry. No one felt nothing.” 

THE SOUR CHERRY TREE by Naeem Hrab; illus. Nahid Kazemi

A touching story about loss and remembrance of a beloved grandfather who spoke Farsi loudly and English quietly. 

“My baba bozorg forgot to wake up yesterday. He lived alone, so no one was there to bite him. I really wish I’d been there.”

WATERCRESS by Andrea Wang; illus Jason Chin

The family of a young girl stops alongside the road to pick watercress which inspires a tender memory story of life in China, inspired by the author’s story.

“I look from my uncle’s hollow face to the watercress on the table and I am ashamed of being ashamed of my family.”

WHEN WE SAY BLACK LIVES MATTER written and illustrated by Maxine Beneba Clarke.

 A black child’s parents explain why Black Lives Matter. 

“Darling, when we sing that Black Lives Matter, and we’re dancing through the streets, we’re saying: fear will not destroy our joy, defiance in our feet.”