Great Books… award winners etc.

2016 has gotten off to a great start with some GREAT reads. Knowing that the NEWBERY and Caldecott Awards would be announced by the end of January, I was intrigued to read some of the popular predictions. (Note: A FISH IN A TREE by Lynda Mullaly Hunt was one of the books I was rooting for). Just cause a book wins an award doesn’t mean, it’s a GREAT book. I always believe that if you think it’s a great book, then it is. Here’s what one student said:

A good book is a good book if YOU make it a good book. If you really like the story, then it is a good story and no one can change that. It does not matter what others think. It is what YOU think is a great book that makes it a great book.

from, “This is a Great Book” by Larry Swartz and Shelley Stagg Peterson, p. 7


Here are some titles that Dr. Larry particularly enjoyed to start off the new year (listed alphabetically by author):

THE WAR THAT SAVED BY LIFE by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This novel takes place in World War II and tells the story of a brother and sister who were forced to evacuate from their homes in London in order to escape the war. Ada and Jamie end up living with Susan Smith who does an admirable job of caring for these two children whose past is filled with poverty and abuse. Ada is burdened with a clubfoot which has crippled her both emotionally and physically, but in her new home, she learns to ride a pony, to read and to eventually have her tough exterior melt away as war surrounds her. This novel deservedly was recognized as a Newbery Honor Book.

LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET by Matt de la Pena; Illus. Christian Robinson

This book deserves recognition for being both the Newbery Award Winner and a Caldecott Honor book. This story is a testimony to the loving relationship of an African-American boy and his grandmother as they journey through an urban community and is a ‘winner’ in any category. Certainly would make Ezra Jacks Keats proud.

THE HONEST TRUTH by Dan Gemeinhart

Mark has always dreamed of reaching the top of Mount Rainier and early in the book we learn that he escapes from home to fulfill his dream. He meets some tough obstacles along the way, which don’t frazzle him because what could be tougher than fighting cancer, the treatments, and the imminence of dying. An interesting format is presented in this book: Each chapter labels the amount of miles Mark has to travel to reach his goal (e.g. Chapter 6 Miles to go:39) and alternating chapters are labelled with a fraction: (e.g. Chapter 6 ½) which tells the story from the viewpoint of those that Mark left behind at home, particularly his good friend Jessie). An emotional book about perseverance and survival, hope and truth.

ROLLER GIRL by Victoria Jamieson

An entertaining graphic novel. Readers will route for Astrid who his determined to be an to be an star Roller Derby player. Astrid is feisty and tenacious especially when trying to understand her best friend’s behaviours and her association with the mean girl in school. Though they might not want to be roller girls, many young adolescents will identify with the trials and tribulations puberty presents to those going through puberty who must deal with family, friends and growing pains. This book was a Newbery Honor Book.

FIREFLY HOLLOW by Alison McGhee; Illusrated by Christopher Denise

I wouldn’t be surprised to see this title on award lists next year. I am often a sucker for books with anthropomorphic animal characters (Abel’s Island by William Steig, The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden, The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary, The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo). McGhee has written about three heroes each with a dream. Firefly is determined to fly up to the moon, Cricket wants to learn how to catch a baseball, Peter, a little giant (i.e. human) wants to be a free spirit and not go back to school. And then there’s Vole, whose family was destroyed leaving him to live on his own on a riverboat. This book is an ideal read aloud for younger grades. The chapters are short and readers will likely cheer the characters who rebel against what is expected of them. Vivid colour plates appear throughout. Lovely!

ALL AMERICAN BOYS by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

This is an important and timely book for young adolescent readers. The novel is told in mostly alternating voices, each written by one of the authors. Rashad is brutally beaten by a white policeman who accuses the black teenager of stealing (we know he was innocent). Quinn, a white boy saw it all, but is afraid to speak up because the policeman, Paul, is a close family friend who mentored Nick when his father was killed in Afghanistan. A book that helps readers understand the complexity of taking sides, but more important questioning not only prejudice but police brutality. A Coretta Scott King Honor Book.

Newbery Award Winner 2016

  •    Last Stop on Market Street Matt de la Pena; Illus. Christian Robinson


Newbery Honor Books

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Echo Pamela Munoz Ryan

Caldecott Award Winner 2016

  •    Finding Winnie: The true story of the world’s most famous bear
    Illus. Sophie Blackall; written by Lindsay Mattick


Caldecott Honor Books 

   Trombone Shorty Illus. Bryan Collier; written by Troy Andrews

   Waiting Kevin Henkes

   Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
Illus. Ekua Holmes; written by Carole Boston Weatherford

   Last Stop on Market Street Illus. Christian Robinson; written by Matt de la Pena


Next up on Larry’s bookpile:
5 to 1 by Holly Bodger
LIT UP by David Denby
PAX by Sara Pennypacker; Illustrated by Jon Klassen

Larry’s Favourites 2015

Sorry, no top ten best-of-the year list from me. But the following offers you  titles (by genre) that I particularly enjoyed recently (which is sort of like a top ten list, I guess)  The following offers some  books, films and theatre that Dr. Larry particularly enjoyed  in 2015.


From year to year, there doesn’t seem to be an abundance of new poetry anthologies for young people. Particularly Canadian poetry. For sure there is a lack of great poetry collections. HEAD TO TOE SPAGHETTI by David Booth is a GREATpoetry book. Each of the poem’s centres on food. giving us poems that ‘tickle your lips and tangle your tongue’. Les Drew’s amusing illustrations add to the delight of this great Canadian poetry book, yes,  for readers of all ages. Available through and

9780921156598: Head to Toe Spaghetti and Other Tasty Poems


I recently the book, The Gospel Truth, by Canadian author Caroline Pignat with a grade seven class and I claim this to be my favourite Canadian read of the past year. (disclaimer: I am quite enamoured with the Free Verse novel format). Pignat’s novel was the 2015 Governor General’s Award for children’s literature. The book presents different viewpoints of slaver and is a powerful example of Historical Fiction for ages 12+.


Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino  was a finalist for the TD Children’s Outstanding Book as well Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award. This is an important story to share in classrooms – at all grade levels!. Morris is a young boy with a strong imagination, with artistic talents and with a determination and satisfaction to wear a dress at home and at school. An important book about creativity and gender identity.


The Newbery Award winners are soon to be announced at the end of January and for those children’ book lovers there’s always much guessing and predictions as to who the winners will be.  Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s A Fish in the Tree remains at the top of the list. On my book pile are: The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz,  Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton and Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt. Will know the winners by the end of January. Year to year, I never seem to guess correctly.


A History of Loneliness was my very favourite read (adult) of 2015. This is a novel that reveals truths about the Irish Catholic Church, and the complexities of confronting paedophelia. Boyne is perhaps best known for his book The Boy With The Striped Pajamas. As an author of children’s books as well as adult fiction he is a master story teller.  Two recent titles were also amongst my favourite reads of the year. Like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas his new children’s novel The Boy at the Top of the Mountain tells the story of a boy who knows nothing about the Nazis, but is immersed in the background history when he is sent to live in a mysterious house at the top of a mountain where he is taken under Hitler’s wing. Also on my list of great books, is Boyne’s new short story collection, Beneath the Earth. 


These three authors have been recent favourites of mine and was excited that each had a new short story collection in 2015. Of course with such anthologies, if you’re not enjoying a story, you can quickly skip to the next selection. I read each and every story in these three great books

  • Rachel Joyce (author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) has written A Snow Garden and other stories
  • Nickolas Butler (author of Shotgun Lovesongs) has written Beneath the Bonfire.
  • John Boyne (author of A History of Loneliness) has written Beneath the Earth. (interesting that this title almost matches Butler’ book)


Oliver Sacks autobiography, On the Move, published just before his death in is a special read about the famous neurophysician who brought humanity to the sick and the disabled. What a life! What a writer! Note: mention too for a recent publication entitled Gratitude which presents four short essays written before his death in 2015, that offer Sacks gratitude about the gift of life.


The movie YOUTH is at the top of the list. Went to see this film, by the Italian film director Paul Sorrentino (The Great Beauty). Recognize that this film by the Italian director Paul Sorrentino (The Great Beauty)  isn’t for everyone’s tastes, but the acting (Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Jane Fonda), the scenery, the music all were sublime.  On my second viewing of the film, I found myself to be very moved. Mention must be made of the Hungarian film SON OF SAUL, about the Sonderkommando, Jews who were forced to work in death camps.  It’s a movie that will leave you shaken and stirred. Have been thinking about both these movies long after seeing them.


  • London: Hangmen by Martin McDonagh
  • New York: The Humans by Stephen Karam
  • Toronto:  887 by Robert LePage (the guy’s a genius!).

Great Novels for Ages 9 to 13

While preparing the final draft of my latest publication, “This is a great book!” (Pembroke Publishers, 2015: co-author Shelley Stagg Peterson), I challenged myself to include titles published in 2015. Below is an overview of ten recent novels particularly recommended for 9 to 13 year old readers, listed alphabetically by author.

CRENSHAW  by Katherine Applegate

Jackson has an imaginary friend, a large cat named Crenshaw. Crenshaw keeps Jackson company, and guides him to deal with the  tribulations his family faces, living in poverty. Recommended also as a read aloud.

THE NIGHT GARDNER by Jonathan Auxier

A novel that celebrates the power of storytelling. If you like novels filled with darkness and magic and atmosphere and creepy adventures and mysterious strangers and ancient curses and haunting trees, this one is for you!  Jonathan Auxier brilliantly takes readers in a remarkable journey of fantasy and horror as they share in the experience of two Irish siblings who have been abandoned by their parents (or have they?). This novel won the 2015 TD Children’s Book Award prize as book of the year.


We first met Mr. Terupt when he was a first year teacher, adored by the students in his class. He was a teacher who serves as a model for passionate, authentic teaching, recognizing the essential need to build community in his classroom.  All beginning teachers (and ‘old farts’ too) can learn from Mr. Terupt. This is the third book in the trilogy (Because of Mr. Terupt,  Mr. Terupt Falls Again) and in this novel we continue to care for Mr. Terupt as he – and his students – strive to maintain a teaching position for him when he is declared redundant!

GEORGE by Alex Gino

George is an important novel. George is a novel for current times. George is a boy. George knows she’s a girl. this novel, George is determined to get the part of the female character in the school play Charlotte’s Web. Whether a boy can play a female character frames the narrative of this story but more important it helps readers, ages ten through twelve to consider the challenges of wanting to live the life of a gender different than the one you were born with.

LOST IN THE SUN by Lisa Graff

Trent Zimmerman lives with the guilt of having accidently killed a boy with a hockey puck.  It  is his special relationship with a girl, Fallon Little, a girl with a mysterious scar across her face that helps Trent get through the awful feelings he’s been experiencing as well as cope with the challenges of middles school life.

FISH IN A TREE by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Ally can’t read (yet!) and she has gone through school hiding her inability. A special relationship with a group of friends, and a special relationship with her new grade six teacher sets Ally on a journey to success and a world of making the impossible, possible. This is an important novel about understanding and supporting  Special Needs students

THE NEST by Kenneth Oppel;  Illus. Jon Klassen

Master storyteller, Kenneth Oppel has written a story that works on many levels.  He builds sympathy with the story of a family coping with the birth of a newborn with a heart defect.  He builds imagination with the troubled dreams of the brother, Steve, who feels his family is being torn apart. He builds suspense and intrigue and horror with the plot of the wasp queen  attempting to replace the sick baby with a healthy one. The black and white illustrations by Jon Klassen add to the atmosphere and mystery of The Nest.

AUGGIE & ME: Three Wonder Stories by R.J. Palacio

Polacio’s story about young boy with an extraordinary face.  In the popular  – and essential – novel, Wonder, we meet Auggie when he goes to school for the first time and just wants to be ordinary. In this sequel , we learn more about Auggie’s world  through the voices of three characters connected to his life.


Is it possible for a group of grade to follow a ‘No Fighting’ Rule as they experience the ups and downs of middle school life? Stead won the Newbery medal for her book When You Reach Me and in her newest book, the author examines friendships amongst girls, and boys and girls helping young adolescent readers to consider their own relationships and complexities of belonging.

FUZZY MUD by Louis Sachar

The author of the very popular novel Holes has provided young readers with another engaging novel in this mystery thriller about  a boy and a girl, a bully, the U.S. Senate and a mysterious environmental disaster.