Each title listed in this posting is so different from the one beside it, but the theme of ACCEPTANCE and MAKING A DIFFERENCE weaves these 10 novels together.
THE BEATRYCE PROPHECY by Kate DiCamillo; illus. Sophie Blackall
I only need to see Kate DiCamillo’s name on a book cover to know that I’m in for a great read. I’m so fond of her books (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Raymie Nightingale, The Tale of Desperaux, Flora and Ulysses) that I looked forward – and enjoyed reading this new novel, where a wise and headstrong goat has to look out for herself and the wounded child in her care. Beatryce is a young girl hunted by the prophecy of a king that who feels threatened by being unseated by her. A cast of characters, (A timid monk, an orphan boy, a bearded stranger, a mermaid) a part of the tale of discovery, tragedy and love. “Love here is built on the deceptively simple belief that other beings in the world are fully our equals, sharing the same inherent worth, with as much right to life and joy, – with sorrow a certain outcome for us all.” (Naomi Novik, New York Times, review, Sept 19, 2021). I agree with the Novik’s review when she says that Beatryce, ‘both the character and the book, are easy to love’. As is the author, Kate DiCamillo.
BORDERS by Thomas King; illus. Natasha Donovan (graphic)
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.
BORN BEHIND BARS by Padma Venkatrama
Since the day he was born, Kabir has been living in an Indian jail living with his mother who is serving time for a crime (she didn’t commit). When the nine-year-old boy is told that he is too old to stay in jail, he is released – without is mother. Left.to fend for himself on the streets of a crowded city in India, Kabir learns about the dangers of the world that doesn’t value low-caste kids. Luckily, he befriends, Rani, ( Roma) another street kid who gives Kabir advice and courage to make the best of life. More than anything, Kabir seeks being reunited with family and won’t give up in attempting to get his mother released from jail. The author of The Bridge Home has written another emotional ,hopeful novel about survival, poverty and resilience, about families lost and families found.
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.
FRANKIE AND BUG by Gayle Forman
This is an engaging story about a boy/girl friendship. Correction and Spoiler alert…Frankie is questioning his gender identity and though born a female now identifies himself as a boy, information that we learn about halfway into the book. Frankie was sent to Venice California to live with his uncle for the summer and he connects with 10 year old Bug who only wants to spend time at the beach. There are several subplots and adventures that emerge as the book unfolds: Bug’s brother is caught up in participating in physical exercise at Muscle Beach, the two protagonists are convinced they can catch the Midnight Marauder a criminal on the loose in the LA area; itis the time of AIDS and Uncle Phil is the victim of Gay bashing; when Aunt Teri visits we learn that she is homophobic: Bug comes eventually comes to learn about her Salvadoran heritage and the death of her father. The setting is Venice California and the author offers a cast of colourful characters (Skinheads, a Hungarian refugee, a hermit, a cross-dresser) who add character to life in and around the beach. Friends, family, acceptance, tolerance are themes woven into this appealing coming-of-age story.
MY NAME IS KONISOLA by Alisa Siegel
When life becomes unsafe for them in Nigeria, nine-year-old Konisola and her mother move to Canada, in search for refuge. When the mother is diagnosed with cancer, the two become separated. Young Konisolo is a stranger in a strange land, with no family, no friends, but it is the compassion of a remarkable Canadian nurse who provides some comfort, some relief and some hope for a better future. This book is based on a true story, that is sure to touching readers hearts and cheer on mother and daughter on as they deal with medical procedures, refugee procedures and adoption procedures.
ONCE UPON A CAMEL by Kathi Appelt
Imagine a novel with an aged female camel as a protagonist. Zada seems to be the last of the camels wandering through the desert in Texas. Low and behold, two tiny kestrels nest atop Zada’s head, hoping to be reunited with their missing parents were taken away by a huge dust storm, the size of a mountain. ? How will Zada keep these two birds protected? Will the kestrel family be reunited. How will Zada help pass the time until Beulah and Wims meet up again with Pard and Perlita? But Zada, who has lived and survived over 60 years has many stories to tell and tell them she does: Stories of camel races for the Pash of Smyrna, of crossing the ocean, of leading army missions with her camel friends, of outsmarting a mountain lion of giving camel rides.Aplet alternates narratives from the year 1910 and 60 years earlier and provides readers with encyclopedic information about the life of a camel and kestrels. What a writer! What a storyteller! From the Author’s notes: “We are, all of us, story beast made to tell stories, built for them. Like the little kestrels, we need our stories to create room for laughter and sadness, joy and sorrow, to help us make sense of the world, even a world that feels crazy and full of dust.”
PIECE BY PIECE: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab by Priya Huk (graphic novel) (11+)
Nisran, a Bangladeshi American girl, living in Oregon has experienced a hate crime for wearing a headscarf for an eighth grade school cultural project. The experience has traumatized the young teenager. However, when she enters high school she is determined to wear a hijab to high school, even though her family disapproves. Struggling to fit in, Nisran continues to be a target, but she is resolved to discover more about Islam, her family’s relationship with it, and the reasons they left Bangladesh. The author creates some vivid and sometimes stark images through dynamic (and sometimes dark) panels. Many graphic novels invite readers to infer what has happened between panels. I felt that the addition of narrative captions might have helped to make the storytelling clearer. Though the story is set in 2002, the depiction of Islamophobia resonates today and the account of a young teenager growing up, struggling finding a place of belonging, questioning her identity and staying true to her convictions is a universal. A short guide to Bangladesh culture is provided as an afterword to the book.
PONY by R.J. Palacio
This novel set in the mid 1800’s is written by the author of the marvel book Wonder, but the story is a far cry (almost) from the Auggie Pulman’s world. A good author is still a good author and Palaccio’s newest book presents twelve-year-old Silas, a motherless boy, reveal her fine storytelling skills and in this case, extensive research capacities. In the book’s opening, three horseman come to take Silas’s father, a bootmaker and photographer with hopes that he will help them with their criminal counterfeiting scheme. The bulk of the book, takes Silas, his companion Mittenwool (who happens to be a ghost) and Pony into the woods on a dangerous journey to reunite with his father. in the end, (no spoiler alert), this is a story about loyalty and love and, like Wonder, is a story where kindness prevails. The adventures when finding and capturing the villains is cinematic. The final part of this book is full of heart as Silas leans more about his past. Ghosts, villains, a violin, daguerotypes, sheriff, a golden treasure , and a devoted Pony named Pony assemble to make this a compelling read.
WHAT LANE? by Torrey Maldonado
Stephen’s father is Black. Stephen’s mother is white. Stephen has a group of Black friends. Stephen has a group of white friends. As a mixed kid, he feels like he needs to follow different rules – lanes – to find a place a belonging. Part of Stephen’s coming of age is learning about living alongside those who have racist attitudes. (He is accused of steeling a cookie in a supermarket while his white friend is ignored for the same act). In Chapter One of my book Teaching Tough Topics, I provide some strategies and resources to build understanding of race and diverse cultures. Was surprised (very pleased) to read the following in the Maldonado’s Acknowledgements: “Tough topics can be tough. Sometime it’s too tough to connect “eye to eye”. This book is for everyone who wants to try – even if it means connecting “shoulder to shoulder” as we walk with young people into better tomorrows.”
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)