Here is a list of 10 novels for readers ages 10-13. One was my very favourite book so far this year. One of them hugely disappointed me. One was written by a former colleague of mine who I spent many a lunchtime gabfest with. One was very funny. One was very very very funny. One was a Newbery Award Winner. A graphic story, a favourite author, a Canadian author, a multimodal story, a heart-stopping adventure, a rabbit’s tale, were all mixed into my 2021 start-0f-the-year reading.
THE CANYON’S EDGE by Dusti Bowling
It is Nora’s birthday and she and her father head into the Arizona desert to celebrate. Things turn for the worse, when Nora finds herself stuck in the bottom of a slot canyon, separated from her father who was taken away by a flash flood. This is a remarkable survival story where the young girl, without any supplies, faces dehydration, scorpions, snakes, frigid weather and fears and haunting memories of her mother who was killed in a shooting one year ago. Dusti Bowling (Insignificant Events in the Life of the Desert), knows all about the Arizona desert and takes readers into a frightening situations that will leave them ‘on the edge’. And this is novel is written in free-verse style. Bravo!
ILLEGAL by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin: illus. Giovanni Rigano (graphic novel)
When his brother, Kwame, disappears from his home in Ghana, Ebo is determined to find his brother and join him on a journey to Europe. The story is told in alternating chapters – Then and Now describing Ebo’s dangerous journey across the Sahara Desert and dangerous streets (then) and the hazardous, harrowing journey at sea, riding perilously on a boat with other hopeful refugees. This is a moving and nail-biting narrative, though fictional, is based on the true stories of ‘illegals’ forced to flee and struggle to survive. Illustrator Rigano has mightily captured the landscapes, human expressions and the cinematic events in alternating palettes (golden browns (then); midnight blues and turquoises (now). A worthwhile companion read to When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson. From the preface: “You, who are so-called illegal aliens, must know that no human being is illegal…. How can a human being be illegal?” (Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor).
THE SMARTEST KID IN THE UNIVERSE by Chris Grabenstein
Jake is just a ‘regular’ kid but when he eats a batch of jelly beans left aside at a hotel conference he suddenly finds himself to be ‘the smartest kid in the universe’. His blurting out of facts astonishes his friends, family and teachers (TED talks stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design (T-E-D),but being so clever now leads him to help solve the problem of his middle school being torn down to make way for a luxury condo. Grabenstein is a hero for writing wild and crazy adventures. Helping the FBI, speedily learning to speak Spanish, finding Haazim Farooqui, the scientist who is responsible for IK (Ingestible Knowledge) pills / jelly beans, being tested for IQ, having a friend addicted to watching detective shows, going on a mission to recover a long lost pirate treasure, becoming a basketball star, winning Quiz Bowl tournaments, infatuation, underarm perspiration and halitosis, are story elements that all whirl together to make this another Grabenstein winner. (first in a series)
SHOUT OUT! GROUND ZERO: A novel of 9/11 by Alan Gratz
This is a GREAT book!. This is a THRILLING book! This is an IMPORTANT book. I am assured that Ground Zero will be a popular reading choice for students, ages 10-13 this year, particularly as we approach the 20th anniversary of the following of the Twin Towers. There have been several books written about the 9/11 experience. (Nine, Ten: A September 11 story by Nora Raleigh Baskin, Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes). In this novel, like Eric Walters’s, We All Fall Down, a boy is visiting the tower on the day of the disaster. Brandon has been suspended from school and his father, who works as a chef in the top floor of the North Tower restaurant, insists that Brandon come to work with him. Early in the morning, Brandon is separated from his father because of a plan he had to go shopping in the underground mall. History tells us what happens, but through a fictional character we learn step by step how someone faced the confounding dangers of collapsing walls, being trapped in elevators, fire blasts, crowded staircases, power outages and the devastating fear of not knowing how you will survive. The events that Gratz takes readers through are heart-stopping. But, Gratz goes further. The book is told in alternating chapters. After reading Brandon in 2001. the narrative takes us to September 11, 2010, Afghanistan where we meet Rashmina who has grown up in the shadow of war. When she ends up rescuing an American soldier named Taz, Rasmina needs to make decisions that involve her family, her community. The young girl’s brother is determined to join the Taliban. In the chapters set in Afghanistan, readers learn about a family surviving with meagre means, ammunition hidden in caves, the threat of Taliban, the question of American as allies. revenge, bomb blasts and rescue. The author brilliantly interweaves past and present, illuminating personal tragedies and political views as he builds two heart-in-the mouth stories. I consider Alan Gratz’s REFUGEE a must read. Add the riveting poignant Ground Zero to that must read list. It will be.
BENBEE AND THE TEACHER GRIEFER by. K.A. Holt
DISCLAIMER: I know nothing about video games. Never play em. Not interested. I am however aways eager to read novels presented in multimodal format and K.A. Holt’s book is told from four different perspectives (+), and includes free-verse (double column, no less) (+), chat conversations, illustrated notebook entries and prose style. I also was intrigued with the plot of a reading teacher helping her students to pass the Florida Rigorous Academic Assessment Test (FART) . Stuck in summer school, the middle school characters, divergent thinkers all, see things differently than the way school demands. It is an addiction to Sandbox, a video game a la Minecraft tht keeps them motivated and the students make a deal with Ms. J that a minute with reading aloud equals one minute they get to play the video game. Read some reviews of the book that were mighty favourable, and there is no doubt that tweenagers will enjoy the book. But I did not enjoy this book (See Disclaimer). The premise seemed interesting enough but I was puzzled by the teacher’s approach (reading aloud=successful literacy testing); the really smart inner voices and language ability of these supposedly Special Needs Learners. I was perturbed by the fact that the teacher refused to call Ben Y by their chosen name. I was angry that these kids were squeezed in under the stairs of the school. I accept that a teacher of worth would always seek the strength of their students and teach according to their needs. I like that the kids become a community. but the narrative was a slog for me. Can’t win ’em all. If this is the first in a series, count me out. I much preferred The Unteachables by Gordon Korman where I laughed at the teacher and rooted for those struggling students.
FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON by Janae Marks
This novel rides on two mysteries 1. Will Zoe Washington achieve her dream of joining America’s Kids Baking Contest on TV 2. Will she be able to find proof that her father who has been in prison since her birth is innocent of committing murder. Readers will certainly root for 12 year old Zoe who is determined to create the ‘best cupcake’ to show off her talents and who is even more determined to communicate with the father she’s never met and to find a witness who might help with his case. Her quest forces her to tell likes and keep secrets from her mother and stepfather. An engaging, emotional narrative filled with hope.
UNTIL NIAGARA FALLS by Jennifer Maruno
Each chapter in this novel tells a story that involves friendship (and loyalties), community living, a summertime pastimes in the early 1960’s. Anecdotes about going to library, riding bicycles, going to the local swimming pool, wiener roasts, and churchgoing.. and pickles are delightful to read. This novel encourages young readers to thing of their own summers, their own family and friendships, no matter where they live. I could taste the jujubes, the double bubble gum, I could hear the roar of the falls, I could see those souvenir stores and library rooms. Jennifer and I were teaching colleagues long ago in the Peel District. You’ve come a long way, kiddo!
CODE NAME BANANAS by David Walliams
I look forward to reading a new novel by the wildly entertaining author David Walliams.His stories are full adventure – farcical and absurd and funny! This kind of stuff has a huge appeal for young readers and it’s no wonder that his books have been number one in book lists and sold more than 40 million copies worldwide. Applause for his inventive narratives, the design of the books with a range of fonts, black backgrounds and spot illustrations contribute to the appeal of these book treasures. And make no mistake, the gifted illustrator of these books, Tony Ross, explodes the narrative and delight the eyes the eyes while animating the verbal text. CODE NAME BANANAS is set in World War II, the London Blitz, Nazi attacks, a threatened assassination on Winston Churchill and a Gorilla named Gertrude who has been rescued from the London Zoo. There was a somewhat different flavour to this Walliams title that had a layer of historical fiction. But Walliams doesn’t fail to be farcically funny and has gone bananas with this adventure of an orphan boy, his uncle who has tin legs and a very loyal and very hungry monkey (oops! make that an ape!).
ALICE’S FARM: A Rabbit’s Tale by Maryrose Wood
I’m quite fond of anthropomorphic stories (The One and Only Ivan; Abel’s Island) and this novel is a beautifully written tale in which rabbits and foxes and weasels and a bald eagle named John Glenn, live together, even if they are predator or prey. The Harvey family arrive from the big city to Prune Street Farm. Perhaps they are naive in their decision to make a go of it. but determined they are to find success. Alice, the rabbit, her brother and her friends collaborate to save the farm from being bulldozed, coming up with a plan (with the cooperation of other animals) to build a ‘miracle’ garden. Not since Charlotte’s Web have we been immersed in the everyday life of begin a farmer. But this book is full of life’s challenges and joys: the preservation of eagles, the threat of developers to overtake a property; the idea of homeschooling; the fear of hunters; the preservation of eagles; the ritual of annual autumn marketing; a community helping each other; the decision about being a vegetarian, a passion for creating a new product (dehydrated fruit)’ the inevitability of death and a family struggling to follow their dreams. Womderful writing. Great storytelling.
SHOUT OUT: Newbery Winners 2021
WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER by Tae Keller
This is a powerful story about the power of stories. Lily is a young Korean girl who moves into her grandmother’s home with her sister and mother. A stranger calls and wants to retrieve something from Halmoni (Grandmother). The stranger happens to be a tiger. The something happens to be jars of story stars. Keller draws stories from Korean folklore in this captivating, often thrilling , story of friendship, heritage and loyalty.Lily’s strange encounters with a tiger and with hopes hopes of rescuing her ailing grandmother from getting sicker, make this a engaging novel about identity, culture and family for middle age readers.
NEWBERY HONOR WINNERS:
FIGHTING WORDS by Kimberly Brubaer Bradley
WE DREAM OF SPACE: Erin Entrada Kelly
ALL THIRTEEN: THE INCREDIBLE CAVE RESCUE OF THE THI BOYS SOCCER TEAM by Christina Soontornvat
BOX: HENRY BROWN MAILS HIMSELF TO FREEDOM by Carole Boston Weatherford