HOORAY FOR FICTION: 2024 titles +1

The 2024 fiction books listed below for middle years and YA readers offered rich reading experiences indicating that this is going to be another great year for reading chidren’s literature. The three terrific ‘Shout Out’ titles are ‘must reads’. 



This is a fine novel about heritage, culture and endurance. The book is presented as four separate stories, set in four different time periods, each centred on a young Jewish adolescent girl. In Spain 1492, a family is forced to flee their country because of the Spanish Inquisition that enforced Jewish people to convert to Catholicism. In the second part, we are in Turkey 1921, Raina, a determined young feminist disobeys her father who punishes her by sending her off to Cuba. In 1961, Cuba, we are introduced to Alegra who is Reina’s daughter and being caught up in Castro’s revolution decides to work as a brigadista teaching citizens in the countryside to read and write. In the final section, Paloma and her family (her mother Alegra, her abuela Reina and her father) take a journey to Toledo, Spain where the young girl when visiting The Sephardic Museum,  learns more about her ancestors and the plight of the Jews.  Somewhat based on the author’s own family experiences,Ruth Behar has done exensive research from a number of sources (listed in the back of the book). The result is a sweeping saga, an engaging narrative of past and present and remembrance and a rich specimen of historical fiction. Author’s note: “My hope is that young people of all faith and backgrounds will gain from this story a new understanding of tolerance and resilience.”


THE FIRST STATE OF BEING by Erin Entrada Kelly

Award-winning author Erin Entrada Kelly offers middle age readers stories with relatable characters caught in adventures that provide landscapes for them to deal with their identiies, their relationships and their views of the world (i.e.,. Hello Universe (Newbery Medal), We Dream of Space (Newbery Honor), Those Kids from Fawn Creek and You Go First). The central figure in this new title is Michael Rosario who lives in an apartment complex with his hard-working single mother.. The place is Delaware, the time is the summer of 1999. Michael has just turned twelve and is very concerned about the approaching January 1, 2001, the Y2K date that he is certain will end the world as they know it. His good friend and babysitter, and an elderly neighbour try to calm Michael down but as “someone with a weighted mind, he knew on thing for certain: telling someone to calm down never worked.” It is teh appearance of a weird-acting kid named Ridge that sets the plot in motion. Not only is this stranger from an outside place, he has – spoiler alert travelled from the year 2199 as part oon of a mission his mother is involved with known as STM (Spatial Teleportation Module, aka a ‘time machine’.) What mysteries about the future can Ridge share with his new friends? What information can Ridge offer Michael to deal with reality? How did Ridge transport himself from the future and will he be able to return home? For lovers of Science Fiction and speculation, Kelly has presented a literary treat by creating a situation that makes the unbelievable seem believable. Audio transcripts of Scientific conversations, excerpts from ‘The Spatial Teleportation  Summary Book’ as well as identifiable stories of family, friendship, bullying and worry help to make this another terrific title from Erin Entrada Kelly. 


JUST HAPPY TO BE HERE by Naomi Kanakia (YA)

I was recently at a conference with hundreds (thousands?) of books on display and the cover of this novel intrigued me: A 3/4 view photograph portrait of dark-skinned person with stubble beard, who is applying lipgoss to his face. Picking up the book to read the jacket blurb, I read “Tara just wants to be treated like any other girl at Ainsley Academy.” I bought the book because I’m interested in any fictional work that deals with transness and transphobia to better understand the joys and challenges of being transexual. Tara is the first trans-girl in an all-girls school . The plot is centred around girls joining the Sibyls, an old-fashioned Ainsley sisterhood whose members must   code names from Roman and Greek mythology.  Tara wants to join the club (or does she?) but this opportunity thrusts her into defining what girlhood means, the intentions of belonging to a sisterhood club, and coming to better terms of what it means to be ‘different’ at the school. Tara’s ‘just happy to be (t)here’ The club might capture the interest of adolescent girls (I wasn’t entirely engaged with this conceit). Still, Naomi Kanakia’s title is a worthy important contribution to literature about gender identity. 


MID-AIR by Alicia D. Williams (Verse Novel)

Eighth-grade student Isaiah feels lost. He is struggling with the loss of his best friend Darius who was killed in accident. Isaiah feels guilty for the part he played in the hit and run accident and worried about the dwindling friendship with Drew who he enjoys hanging out with doing wheelies, watching movies and attempts to break Guiness World Records before entering high school. Isiah can’t seem to cope with a lost friend and a fading friend  his feelings of grief and the need to forge ahead with honesty and grace. The verse style and use of slang and vocabulary are relatable and well-suited for the reflective stance of this black teenage character.



Pajama Press  Wendy Orr’s novels taht are engaging reading adventures for middle years readers. Many in this age group love to partake in narratives that feature animals.  For lovers of horse stories, this title is an appealing since it deals with survival, self-sufficiency and mystical horses. The Valley of Horses has been a safe haven for Honey and her family for years, but when Honey’s father takes sick, she is challenged to find a way beyond her home territory to  solve the problem.  It is stories that have helped Honey learn about people and places outside her home and it a dangerous journey which takes her family to a mysterious valley with extraordinary horses.  This is another gripping adventure story by a great storyteller.  Other titles by Wendy Orr: Cukoo’s Flight; Dragonfly Song; Swallow’s Dance, Nim’s Island).

THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton (1967) (YA)

Published in 1967, this groundbreaking novel written by S.E .Hinton as a teenager remains to be groundbreaking novel in the world of children’s literature. It is noteworthy for being the title for establishing a Young Adult (YA) literature  category of literature.The story of three orphaned brothers (Darry, Sodapop, Ponyboy), two rival gangs (The Greasers & The Socs) and one gang rumble has been read by over fifteen million readers across the world. I came to re-read the book to prepare me for seeing The Outsiders presented as a musical in New York. Have you ever re-read a book that you long-ago admired?if so, have you enjoyed it as much as you did when you read it at a different stage in your life?  Does the book hold universal truths to different generations of readers? I remember presenting this novel to my grade 7 class when I first began teaching grade 7. I know that the book remains as popular today in classrooms as it did when it was first published.   The words ‘If we don’t have each other, we don’t have anything.’ remains as true today as it did to a fictitious character named Sodapop. The copy I read was published in 2017 (50th anniversary) and contains archival photos. letters, reviews and samples of media coverage. BTW: for lovers of the book, the broadway musical version of this story is worth seeing. I liked it. 


TIMID by Jonathan Todd (graphic novel)

Cecil’s family has just moved from Florida to Massachusetts and the grade 7 boy is finding it hard to adjust and fit in. Cecil is a lack, church-going young adolescent who is shy (yes, quite TIMID) and doesn’t know how to go about making friends with oth, Black or White. What Cecil has going for him is an artistic talent for drawing comics and a steadfast determination that he will one day be a famous cartoonist, despite his father’s wishes.  The author frequently uses thought bubbles which help readers get inside Cecil’s head and his worries about being labelled an OREO (Someone who is blavk but acts white. The story is semi-autobiographical drawing parallels to Jonathan Todd’s experiences figuring out who his real friends were. Middle school readers will certainly care for  – and root for – this talented timid teenager. 



FERRIS  by Kate DiCamillo

Hurrah! Hurrah! A neel by Kate DiCamillo is cause for celebration. There is no doubt that she is on my list of favourite authors. Her multitude of fans would agree! Once again she tells a story with heart, humour and relatability. Emma Phineas Wilkey (Ferris) is an endearing character. Born under the ferris wheel at the local fair, her life is surrounded with fascinating,  likeable characters all around: Uncle Ted who, after having a dispute with Aunt Shirely,  has moved into the family basement to paint a history of the world; a feisty younger sister who attempted to rob a bank; a father who is worried about the invasion of raccoons; a best friend, Billy Jackson, who is a terrific piano player; a beloved -greif-stricken teacher; and last but not least Ferris’s much-loved grandmother Charisse who’s sudden stroke of illness is worrisome to the family; and oh yes, a ghost whose appearance is to take Charisse to the  Great Beyond An unusual hair-do, the quest to find 40 candles to light a chandelier, a budding romance, a loveable dog; and a  celebration of newly discovered vocabulary word are wonderful are ingredients the author has invented for a wonderful piece of fiction. Throughout the novel, the mantra “EVERY GOOD STORY IS A LOVE STORY” is a reminder about Ferris’s determination to protect and love those around her and a testimony to the heart of DiCamillo’s  fine writing. This is a good story, a GREAT story, a funny, endearing, quirky story about funny, endearing, quirky family and community – who live to love.  Hurrah! Hurrah! 



LOUDER THAN HUNGER by John Schu (ages 12+)

Jake is a thirteen-year-old boy who’s life is full of despair, He is depressed. He has an obsessive-compulsive disorder. He is a boy burdened Anorexia Nervosa.  He is wounded by bully taunts  “Loser. Wimp Freak.”    There is no happiness in his life, other than memories of time spent with his loving grandmother and admiration of Broadway musicals and Emily Dickinson poetry (“I am nobody! /Who are you?  Are you. – Nobody – too?”).  Jake does not have a healthy relationship with his parents (His mother is also dealing with depression.  The voice is an evil character roaring inside Jakes head (“You need to  burn off more calories.” “You don’t deserve love and warmth and kindness.”  “You – are  – repulsive!” “You don’t want to get better.”) Jake writes “I want  to erase every single thing about me.”   When others notice that Jake is wasting away (literally)  he finally he  is sent to a psychiatric treatment centre where, Whispering Pines,  much of the narrative unfolds. The demonic Voice persists and Jake resists help from other troubled residents and from his therapists. Readers will root for things to get better for Jake and will read on to discover a turning point that will lead this teenager coming to  feel worth and to lead a better life. 

This book is a punch in the heart. The free verse style is a suitable format for the character to reveal his reflective thoughts. Some pages only have a few words. Some poems are written with one word per line. Some words are written. Many phrases are repeated. Many statements follow a repeated pattern  Writers are often advised to ‘write what you know’. In an afterword to the book, the author writes a letter to his readers stating “How do I understand Jake’s inner thinking? How do I understand Jake’s heart so well so deeply? The reality is that many of his thoughts, including his disordered thinking and eating, are passed on my own experiences as a young person. Louder Than Hunger parallels John Schu’s life in many ways makes it all the more harrowing a read.  It is  courageous, heart-squeezing story and though a tough read, Jake’s/John’s story  can open doors and ignite conversations. Any reader with compassionate heart will worry and care aboutJake and want to wrap their arms around him to give assurance and hope. As I read through the book, I became aware of the word ‘heart’ that is sprinkled generously throughout the book. I first encountered librarian and author John Schu at a language conference where he passionately shared favourite book titles with the audience and generously gave books away to individuals asking, “Who’s heart needs this book?” In her brief forward, author Kate DiCamill0 writes that ‘reading Jakes story will change you.” And quoting Mr. Schu, I say “your heart needs this book!



OLIVETTI by Allie Millington

There are many novels for middle age readers about troubled tweenagers (e.g., Work in Progress by Jarrett Lerner) . There are many novels about young people who have to deal with illness and grief (e.g. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin; ;The Probabilty of Everything by Sarah Everett. There are many books that are presented in the anthr0promorphic voice from the animal or natural world) (e.g., Wishtree and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate) . :However, I cant think of any books that are narrated theough the voice of a typewriter. Yes, a typewriter. That is not a typo.  Allie Millington has presented an original engaging story where a typewriter named Olivetti is featured as an important character. Olivetti has lived with the Brindle family for many years, often used by the mother Beatrice Brindle. When Beatrice mysteriously disappears the family goes into action to find out why and where she has vanished. Twelve year old Ernest who likes to be left alone to enjoy going through his collection of Oxford Dictionaries is determined to find answers to the family crisis which  for him involves a theft from a Pawn Shop. Olivetti comes to the rescue which heads him to break the only rule of typewriter  code and types messages to Ernest, which leads to the divulgance of memories stored inside him.  The book is told in alternating voices of Ernest and Olivetti. Applause to Millington for presenting a uniaue narrative.. The review of this book in the New York Times (Sunday March  24, 2024) was written by the actor Tom Hanks who is a collector and afficionado  of Remington, Underwwood and Royal machines that he calls ‘wondrous’ things and praises  Millington who ‘captures the essence of why typewriters are such extraordinary creatures.”. Dr Larry’s Review?:   Sensational  Stellar! Stupendous! Superior! S’Wonderful!.  


“Typewrites do not have the luxury of moving on. Remembering is the very language we speak. I am a patchwork of pasts, stitched together with stories. A tapestry of tales.'(p. 188)