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).
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.
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
“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.
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)
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.
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.
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