Dr. Larry Recommends

Dr. Larry Recommends

What books have I recently enjoyed reading? What plays have I recently enjoyed seeing? This section offers recommendations of some of my current favourite literary and arts experiences.  I look forward to frequently posting children’s literature book lists here.

MIDDLE YEARS + YA TITLES: December reading 2022

The month of December offered more free time than usual to dig into books (when not watching Netflix.  This posting outlines 11 books for middle years and teenage readers with some fine fiction, nonfiction titles and poetry titles.

 

MIDDLE YEARS (ages 9 – 12)

 

AVIVA VS. THE DYBBUK by Mari Lowe (Fiction)

Aviva is an orthodox young girl, who experienced tragedy in her life, when her father was killed. Aviva is now living alone with her mother who supervises the community mikvah (a pool used for religious immersing).  A ghostly and mischievous dybbuk (ghost of a deceased person who returns to complete a certain task) keeps Aviva company even though he is the cause of mayhem in destruction. Aviva’s relationship with her best friend Kayla has gone sour but when the two are forced to work together to plan festivities for the girls in their school who approaching Bat Mitzva (coming of age for Jewish girls at twelve), the two girls renew their friendship, especially when tension mounts in the community where they live when vandalism and antisemitic crimes escalate, as does the actions of the dybbuk. This was an engaging suspenseful read, I would say for a particular audience, where Judaic customs might be familiar (e.g. Mikvah; Dybbuk: Shul: Torah; Bat Mitzvah Genizah). Still a story of grief, healing, popularity and resilience are universal themes to engage many young adolescent readers. 

 

THE CHILDREN OF WILLESDEN LANE: A True Story of Hope and Survival During World War II by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen adapted by Emil Sher (Historical Fiction)

This story of courage and hope recounting the experiences of teenager Lisa Jura’s life in England during WWIi. Lisa was chosen for the Kindertransport, the rescue effort to relocate Jewish children to great Britain. Separated from her family and left unaware of their fates, Lisa finds company in the refugee home on Willesden Lane. A musical prodigy, Lisa Jura is devoted to practicing piano, receiving a scholarship to the Royal Academy and giving concerts. It is music that gives her hope and helps her to keep her promise to her mother ‘to hold on to her music.”  Her daughter Mona Golabek a celebrated concert pianist, along with journalist Mona Golabek recounts Lisa Juras’s experiences. This version is a Young Readers Edition adapted by Emily Sher. The Hold On To Your Music Foundation is a nonprofit organization which has created a series of Willesden Reads across North American. Recently, copies of this historical fiction have been donated to middle age readers throughout the GTA to read this inspirational of a courageous Jewish refugee survivor.  www.holdontoyourmusic.org

 

THE DEEPEST BREATH by Meg Grehan (Free verse novel)

This free verse novel;, bu Irish author, Meg Grehan, presents a sensitive portrait of an 11-year old girl who is questioning her sexuality. Stevie has. a fizzy feeling in her tummy about a girl named Chloe in her class whom she makes friend. She has a loving relationship with her now single mother and Stevie doesn’t want to let her down. Grehan presents an inquisitive, reflective -and rather anxious – character on the path of discovery about changes in her life especially on her path to  accept her feelings for another girl.

 

MARSHMALLOW CLOUDS: Two poets at play among Figures of Speech by Ted Kooser and Connie Wanek; illus. Richard Jones (Poetry)

How lovely it is to dip into a poetry anthology of  poems that spark our imaginations and wonder about familiar elements of our world. Marshmallow Clouds is framed by the four elements of fire, water, air and earth and according to the jacket blurb are about ‘art and reality, fact and fancy.  Ted Kooser was the US Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006 tells us that the ‘poems in this book are about foolign around, about letting one’s imagination run fee with whatever it comes upon. For poet Connie Wanek “it’s fun to listen for voices from unexpected voices.” I liked this collection a lot, but if truth be told especially was wowed by the vivid images created by artist Richard Jones, images of pure poetry. 

from “In November”

The leaves at the tops of the trees

are the last to fall. They cling

to summer as the first cold winds 

begin to pinch at them  like

someone’s fingers trying to put out 

the flames of a thousand candles.”

 

THE UNDERCOVER BOOK LIST by Colleen Nelson (Fiction)

Tyson is known as the class troublemaker and Jane the the class bookworm join forces within a secret club to find Jane a new book-loving friend. Canadian novelist, Colleen Nelson weaves two stories together. where each character discovers their own self-reliance and courage to overcome obstacles. Chapters are organized by alternating characters Jane and Tyson. This novel is a finalist for several book awards, including the OLA Forest of Reading Silver Birch Award.  This story will particularly engage middle-age readers who think about their identities (who doesn’t?) and how caring, empathetic  friendships are built. That it helps to celebrate the world of children’s literature is a bonus. The Kids Lit Quiz competition is an important part of the plot. 

 

SHOUT OUT

MAIZY CHEN’S LAST CHANCE (Fiction)

Maizy Chen has travelled with her mother to visit her grandmother (Oma)and grandfather (Opa) who live in Last Chance,  small community in Minnesota. Oma and Opa run small restaurant called The Golden Palace which had in the family for generations. But business hasn’t been going well recently, especially with Opa’s declining health. Though she was reluctant at first to spend time in this small town, the visit becomes important to Maizy as she learns about Chinese cooking, her mother’s conflict with her grandmother and the mystery of pictures on the office wall and stories from her family’s past. Threaded throughout the book is the story of her great great grandfather Lucky’s journey from China (1876 – ) to San Francisco to Minnesota.  Incidents of Anti-Asian Racism, past and present, are disturbing to read about but Maizy is a smart, determined character who’s hard questions and determination  brings honour to immigrant families. Plying poker, digging for worms, dealing with mean girls, inventing fortune cookie sayings and protecting a large wooden bear mascot that is vandalized  all help to make this a wonderful engaging read.

This is one of the best titles of recent fiction that deal with Anti-Asian Racism that can proudly sit beside the works by Kelly Yang (Front Desk Series; New From Here), Andrew Wang (The Many Meanings of Meilan, Cynthia Kodato (A Place to Belong  and Linda Sue Park (Prairie Lotus).

 

YOUNG ADULT (ages 12- 16)

 

BRAIDING SWEETGRASS: For young adults: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer; adapted by Monique Gray Smith; illus. Nicole Neidhart (nonfiction)

(From the book jacket cover): “As a botanist Robin Wall Kimerer is trained to use the tools of science to ask questions about nature. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces plants and animals as our oldest teachers… Adapted by Monique Gray Smith with illustrations from Nicole Neidhardt Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults highlights how acknowledging and celebrating our reciprocal relationship with: the earth results in a wider, more complete understanding of our place and purpose.”

What a rich, remarkable, detailed  book that presents adolescent readers with an encyclopedic document of the plant world which at the same time informs them of the journey of Indigenous ancestors to understand the generosity of the earth and our part in being grateful for the gifts and giving gifts in return. The layout and text features of this book os wonderful: Chapter organization (Meeting Sweetgrass, Planting Sweetgrass, Tending Sweetgrass, Picking Sweetgrass, Braiding Sweetgrass, Burning Sweetgrass) evocative black and white illustrations spread throughout; the green (Sweetgrass green) to highlight titles and definitions; black and white photographs; Text boxes that define terms (e.g., circumnutation; poultice; windthrow); Questions to inspire the reader that inspire reflection (e.g.,’What happens to our perception, engagement, and connection to the world when we feel the natural world communicating with us?” ; “What would it be like to live with a heightened sensitivity to the lives given for ours?”)  I particularly admired the frequent use of text boxes that highlighted statements from the text. In fact, these excerpts are framed, not in boxes, but in circular borders designed as braided sweetgrass.  (e.g., “How in our modern world, can we find a way to understand the earth as a gift again?”‘ “To be heard , you must speak the language of the one you want to listen.”) Of special note are the stories and legends of that help to explain Indigenous relationship with the natural world (e.g., Nanabozho’s Journey, The Wendigo, Three Sisters). This is an astonishing book. 

 

FLY by Alison Hughes (Free Verse Novel)

Life in high school can be difficult but for teenager Felix Landon Yarrow (a.k.a Fly)  living life in a wheelchair can be particularly challenging.  But Fly is particularly observant of those around him and bravely carrie on. He has a crush on a girl named Daria and keeps this dream a secret. When he becomes aware of a the creepy Carter who is involved in a scheme selling pills, Fly secretly plans to set a trap to catch Carter and perhaps win favour with Daria. This is a wonderful story about the identity of a disabled teenager who  bravely wrestles with life’s circumstances. The free verse style of this excellent novel invites readers into the mind and soul of this boy with cerebral palsy. Beautiful writing. Beautiful character. 

Fly in the hall,

a fly on the wall – 

         watching

        listening,

        missing nothing, 

        remembering

 

THE PRISONER AND THE WRITER by Heather Camlot; illus. Sophie Casson  (YA Picture book/ Historical Fiction)

This is a stirring picture book of historical fiction.  In 1895, Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer was falsely accused of being a traitor to France by passing military secrets to Germany. Dreyfus as exiled to a prison on Devil’s Island. (“My only crime was to have been born a Jew.” Alfred Dreyfus). In 1898 writer Emile Zola’s powerful political letter was published declaring Dreyfus’s innocence and accusing those who were to really to blame. This picture book provides readers with the significance of The Dreyfus Affair in French and world politics. It is a story of antisemitism reminding readers about truth, justice and equality and the need to stand up and speak out against any prejudice they are faced with. Author Heather Camlot has done. brilliant job through lyrical, poetic text and alternate narratives to shine a light on this historical incident and to encourage readers to learn more about two heroic characters and see the relevance of their story in today’s world. Sophie’s Casson’s lightly coloured illustrations strongly support the verbal text.

NOTE: I am creating this posting on 23.01.23, 125 years since Zola’s 4000 word open letter to the president of France was published January 13, 

“The truth is on the march and nothing will stop it.. When we bury the truth underground, it builds up, it takes on such an explosive force, that the day it bursts, it blows up everything with it.” (From “J’Accuse)

 

THE REALM OF POSSIBILiTY by David Levithan (Poetry)

This is an early work (2004) by popular author David Levithan where he digs into the minds and observations and angst of twenty teenage voices. This  a collection of poems where gay and straight characters reflect on love. This is not a free verse novel but each poem, a monologue of sorts  each telling a story. For me, the narratives do not always come through. The book is divided into five sections, each framed on 4 different characters. I went online and stumbled on a list of characters with brief descriptions summarizing their life and relationships. This would have been very helpful if included in the book. As a poet, like his  work in fiction, presents the world of teenagers with authenticity.  

 

SELF-MADE BOYS by Anna-Marie McLemore (YA+) (Fiction)

When the author first read The Great Gatsby as a teen, they were certain that Nick Carraway was in love with Jay Gatsby and that ‘the story wasn’t done for me’.  This title is a remix of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic work. . Jay Gatsby is now a transgender young man, Daisy is a Latina lesbian debutante and Nick Carraway is a Mexican American  transgender boy intent to making a better life for himself. McLemore is a transgender who aspired to present the American dream myth through a new lens. From the author’s note: The term Self-Made men, according to Frederick Douglass “implies an individual independence of the past and present which can never exist.realized ” Award-winning transgender author, Anne-Marie McLemore, has realized their dream by writing about Nick and Jay who couldn’t make themselves as boys and men without each other and without their communities of East Egg and West Egg.  Self-Made Boys is a fresh, honest  well-written novel for teenagers who may or not be familiar with the classic novel on which it is based. 

 

LARRY’S LISTS OF FAVOI

Here are lists of books, theatre, movies and music that brought me pleasure in 2022. I’ve tried to narrowit down to five items, listed alphabetically. Titles with an asterisk are deserved of SHOUT OUT recognition.

PICTURE BOOKS

 

The Blue Scarf by Mohamed Danawi; illus. Ruaida Manna *

Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall

Patchwork by Matt de la Pena; illus. Corinna Lukyer

Please Write Soon by Michael Rosen; illus. Michael Morpurgo

Still This Love Goes On by Buffy Sainte-Marie; illus. Julie Flett

 

FICTION (Middle Years/ ages 9 – 12)

 

Answers in the Pages by David Levithan*

Berani by Michelle Kadarusman

The Secrets of Cricket  Kaarlson by Kristina Sigunsdotter

Odder by Katherine Applegate

Two Degrees by Alan Gratz


FICTION (YA) / ages 12+

 

Ain’t Burned All that Bright by Jason Reynolds; illus. Jason Griffin *

Fly by Alison Hughes

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Melinda Lo

Nothing by Janne Teller

On the Line by Paul Coccia and Eric Walters

 

NONFICTION CHILDREN’S LITERATURE


The Antiracist Kid by Tiffany Jewell

Blue by Nana Brew-Hammond; illus. Daniel Minter

Things to Look Forward To by Sophie Blackall *

Time is a Flower by Julie Morstad

You Can’t Say That edited by Leonard Marcus (grown-up read about censorship in Children’s Literature)

 

GROWN-UP READS: Fiction

 

All the Broken Places by John Boyne *

Amy & Lan by Sadie Jones

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otuska

Lucy By The Sea by Elizabeth Stroud *

Maureen Fry and the Angel of the North by Rachael Joyce *

Small Things Like This by Claire Keegan

Young Mungo  by Douglas Stuart *

GROWN-UP READS: Nonfiction

 

          The Best of Me by David Sedaris (Stories) *

          A Carnival Of Snackery by David Sedaris *

          Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris (Stories) *

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jeanette McCurdy (memoir)

I Was Better Last Night by Harvey Fierstein (memoir)

Late Conversations  with Stephen Sondheim by D.T. Max (interviews)

Permanent Astonishment Thomson Highway (memoir) *

Shy by Mary Rodgers (memoir)

Smile by Sarah Ruhl (memoir)*

 

THEATRE: Local

Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat (Princess of Wales)
Little Dickens (Ronnie Burkett)
Moby Dick (Plexis Polaire Frencb-Norwegian Theatre Company *
Sweeney Todd (Talk is Free Theatre)
Uncle Vanya (Crow’s Theatre)

THEATRE: UK / New York

The Doctor 
Kimberly Akimbo *

Leopoldstadt

Some Like it Hot
Wonder Boy (Bristol Old Vic / Streaming)

MOVIES

Aftersun
The Banshee of Inisherin *
Benediction
Empire of Light
Spoiler Alert

CD’s (Yes, CD’s that I listened to repeatedly)

 

Chambre Avec Vue by Henri Salvador

The Comedian Harmonists Story 

The Essential Cuban Anthology

Ghost Song by Cecile McLorin Savant *

We Are by Jon Batiste

 

OTHER *

David Sedaris (Live)
Hofesh Shector (Fleck Dance Theatre)
Prima Facie (NT Live)
Rite of Spring (Pina Bausch)
Ukranian Classic Ensemble Concert: Rekavik, Iceland

PICTURE BOOKS: A fine collection, December 2022

Below is a list of ten  (+1 shout out)  picture book titles – a fine collection to finish of the year. Some books  have already received award recognition and are deserved of  of further award recognition that may come their way. 

 

CREATURE by Shaun Tan

An amazing gallery of paintings, drawings and reflections by Shaun Tan. Each page is like visiting the wall of an art gallery. Wow!

 

FARMHOUSE by Sophie BIackhall

Award-winning author, Sophie Blackhalll, takes readers on a journey over time through a farmhouse with twelve children who eat and sleep and work and play and argue and dream. This is a sublime portrait of life  and stories – in a particular setting. It is a wonderful portrait of  stories of in a rural home but moreover it is a story that inspires universal connections to family, the seasons, working and dreams. This title was listed as one of the best illustrated books of 2022 in the New York Times.

“The pictures in this book are made in layers… Most of the first layers are invisible now, hidden beneath embellishments and details, in the way that stories become layered as they get told and retold over the years.” (Author’s Note)

 

I LOVE MY CITY  by Frances Desmarais & Richard Adam; Illus. Yves Dumont

This fascinating nonfiction picture book gives readers an “understanding of where cities come from, and the different reasons humans gather to live in them and to help them appreciate them better”.  (Introduction) Each spread with clear headings (e,.g. Districts, Public Services; Safety, Traffic in the City) introduces readers to the origin of cities, their evolution and how they work.

 

OLIVIA WRAPPED IN VINES by Maude Nepveu-Veneuve; illus. Sandra Dumais; translated by Charles Simard

Olivia is a little girl with BIG feelings and when overwhelmed and anxious she sprouts vines and gets stuck inside her prickly feelings – until she learns, with help, to manage the vines she is wrapped in order to do the things she loves. A powerful, metaphorical book about emotions and mental health.

PATCHWORK by Matt de la Pena; illus. Corinna Lukyen

Written in the second person, the author speaks to the reader about gender (‘Your mom cut into a two-story cake and out spilled blue’) emotions (…tears are not pink or blue or weak -they’re human’) talents (‘You go everywhere with a ball in your hand’)  and personality (‘You are kind to everyone and everything’).  Another staggering book by award-winning author Matt de la Pena that inspires reflection about the patchwork of our identities. A book worth sharing – and re-reading.
 

PINK, BLUE AND YOU by Elise Gravel, with Mykaell Blais

This book is framed around kid-friendly questions and information that can lead to conversations about gender (‘What does it even mean to be a girl or a boy?) and sexuality and the right to be true to who you are. (‘Do you think people should be allowed to love whoever they want?) This is a terrific nonfiction title.

THIS IS WHAT I’VE TOLD YOU by Juliana Armstrong

Anishanabowein language teacher, author, illustrator Juliana armstrong shines a light on a number of Anishnabewoin words and their cultural significance that have passed down from Ojibway ancestors. (e.g., Mishkiki: I’ve been told by my Gookmis that our people lived in harmony with the natural world around us. She taught me to gather mishkiki (mi-sh-kiki / Medicine)from the earth to help in our healing.

 

TIME IS A FLOWER by Julie Morstad

This picture book illuminates the concept of  TIME. Not only is it the tick tick tock of the clock, but time is a seed, time is a tree, time is a pebble, a sunset, night, a sunbeam and a memory.  An exquisite celebration of a universa; concept igniting reflection for readers, young and old.   Winner of the the Children’ s Book Centre Marilyn Baillie prize for best picture book of 2022. 

 

TODAY IS DIFFERENT by Doua Moua; illus. Kim Holt

Mai is Hmong American and Kiara who is black do everything together until one day Kiara because of a police assault on a Black man, is kept home from school in order to be safe. This is a story about life overcoming fears and the importance of collaborating as a community, especially when fighting for justice.  The characters on the cover page holding protest signs reveal that this will be a story about protesting. 

 

WHERE BUTTERFLIES FILL THE SKY: A story of Immigration, Family and Finding Home by Zhara Marwan

 Zara learns that her family can no longer stay in the place the young girl has ever known. It is hard to say goodbye; it s hard to adjust to live in a new desert.Time and a friendly welcome by new neighbours help to make settlement into Zara’s new home magical and safe. and a place of belonging. Based on the author’s experiences of moving from Kuwait to New Mexico. The rich illustrations are lively, moody and are evocative of the immigrant story. The artwork in fact, ignites as much narrative as the verbal text. This title was listed as one of the best illustrated books of 2022 in the New York Times.

 

SHOUT OUT 

THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO 52 Large and Small Joys for Today and Everyday

Sophie Blackall

A handbook of personal stories and paintings; a list of 52 things to look forward to 

Award winning author-illustrator Sophie Blackall (Hello Lighthouse; If You Come to Earth…Farmhouse)  presents a collection of joyful things to consider, to aspire to to ensure that we life is lived optimistically. Through 52 short personal stories accompanied with remarkable paintings, Blackall offers a handbook of things to notice to make the most of our time here on Earth: A Hot Shower; A New Word; First Snow; A Full Moon; Listening to a Song You’ve Never Heard Before; Moving the Furniture Around; Making A List; Coming Home. I so loved this inspirational gem that I bought 10 copies that will take care of much of my Christmas / Chanukah gift-giving for friends and relatives young and old.  

 

 

BANNED, CENSORED AND CHALLENGED CHILDREN’S LITERATURE: 10+ Titles

During the 2021-2011 school year, 138 school districts in 32 states banned more than 2500 books.

I am interested in the complex issue of book banning and with the current climate of books being removed from classroom and library shelves in some States mostly because of race, sexuality and gender content. I am  deeply concerned. Now more than ever we need to provide young people with books that help enrich understanding of themselves, of the world. My book Teaching Tough Topics was written to help teachers use children’s literature to build a deeper understanding of social justice, diversity and equity. Yes, teaching such topics as racism, poverty, bullying, the refugee experience and physical and mental challenges can be ‘tough’ but it is essential that we provide students with resources and present strategies that help them develop as caring citizens of the world. In  a speech given by Canadian author activist, Deborah Ellis at the 36th IBBY International Conference, offered the following wise words: 

“Good children’s literature is not the sole key to a sustained livable future for all, but it is certainly one of the keys…” (see preface (p. 7) Teaching Tough Topics

Years ago I attended a session Book Censorship in Children’s literature and Katherine Paterson was on a panel discussing the banning of her very special title Bridge to Terabithia.  Her concluding message has stayed with me: Do we want to prepare our children or protect our children. Now, more than ever, with complexities of racism, immigration, sexual identity, bullying etc. we need books that help students learn about themselves, learn about others, be compassionate of differences and take action to uphold tolerance. 

YOU CAN’T SAY THAT! compiled and edited by Leonard S. Marcus  (professional reading)

Writers for young people talk about censorship, free expression, and the stories they have to tell (voices include Matt de la Pena, David Levithan, Katherine Paterson, Dav Pilkey, R.L. Stine, Angie Thomas. Leonard S. Marcus, one of the world’s leading voices about children’s books interviews the authors who each offer stories about having one or more of their books banned  banned, each frankly sharing their thoughts about the freedom of expression.   You Can’t Say That! helps parents, educators, librarians, politicians and young people come to understand the impact of combatting First Amendment challenges. I found this to be a very inspiring read, prompting me to revisit several titles by the authors to consider what the ‘problems’ might be.  I embarked on a little reading project to re-read a dozen titles that were highlighted in You Can’t Say That!  This posting is an overview of the titles, accompanied by comments presented in the author interviews in Marcus’s book. 

*Note: Jerry Spinelli and Mildred D. Taylor were not featured in Marcus’s book but are included her because for me they were very much worth revisiting and thinking about why they would have been banned.

 

CENSORED BOOKS: TEN TITLES

AND TANGO MAKES THREE by  Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell; illus. Henry Cole (picture book) (2005)

An important true story about two penguins in Central Park who made history because they were boy penguins who did everything together, fell in love, and made a home where they slept together.  This version is accompanied by a compact disc with the story narrated by Neil Patrick Harris. Written in 2005, And Tango Makes Three is a warm story of same sex relationships, which has been challenged and has been on the top ten list of banned literature in some schools and libraries, since it was deemed inappropriate for children. And Tango Makes Three is a story about family and a story about trying to get something you want – and then getting it.

 Justin Richardson:“Abstinence-only education, for example, is the only form of education I can think of that is based on the premise that withholding knowledge is what’s helpful for a child. It obviously makes no sense. But that’s the fear.” (page 158)  Tango was the very first penguin in the zoo to have two daddies. 

 

BOY MEETS BOY by David Levithan (2003)

It’s just about 20 years since the publication f David Levithan’s groundbreaking book about teenage gay love. This is a book about boy meeting and falling in love with boy, boy losing boy; and boy love rekindled. Paul is the central character of the story (I’ve always know I was gay, but it wasn’t confirmed until I was in kindergarten.”) and when he meets Paul he is smitten. Falling in love isn’t easy for anyone and this book gay romance seems ‘normal’ with stories of ex-boyfriends, loyal friends, loving families, and a vibrant character who is both homecoming queen and starting quarterback.  Narrative and conversations will certainly ring true for many straight, queer and/or otherwise. Of course books with boys meeting boys are forever challenged, even though the abundance of  LGBTQ titles has exploded since this book came out in 2003.  Some Leviathan titles include: Another Day, Two Boys Kissing, Every Day, The Realm of Possibilities, Answers in the Pages.

David Levithan  … the fact that my book and my identity are being attacked at the same time isn’t particularly pleasant. And if you want to rub me the wrong way, say that evergreen phrase, “You must be so happy that your books are being challenged – you’ll sell so many more books!” The response to which is: “Yes, more people in that community are likely to read my book now. But it also mens that the queer kids and allies in that community have to defend themselves and the book in the place where they live, and it means that there are likely librarians or teachers who have put themselves in the line of fire to defend the book.” Intellectually, I know that free speech will prevail – it almost always does – and I know that some good conversations will come out of it. But it’s still harrowing to have to face such intolerance on your home ground, and it never feels good to know that people have to go through that.” (page 71)

 

BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Paterson (1977)

Summary (inside cover): “The life of a ten year old boy in rural Virginia expands when be becomes friends with a newcomer who subsequently meets an untimely death trying to reach their hideaway, Terabithia, during a storm.” This iconic novel has been criticized for its gutter and unholy language (Jess says the word ‘Lord’ a lot); the undermining of family values (Leslie calls her parents by their first name) and for the element of death (young people should not ready to be exposed to grief).Am so pleased that this little project to revisit titles I’ve read before connected me to Bridge To Terabithia one more time. It is indeed one of the top 10 books published for young people in the past years. Imagine that in 2027, it will be the  Newbery award-winning novel’s 50th anniversary. Note: I am honoured to have an interview “Dealing with Bereavement Through Children’s Literature”  with Katherine Paterson included in my book Teaching Tough Topics (page 107-108)

 

Katherine Paterson: “… if a book has power, you really can’t control the pwoer. The reception of the power is the reader’s choice. I don’t think you can decide for another reader what might be damaging for them, and I think most children would stop reading if they realized it was something that was hurting thme or if it was something they didn’t want to understand.” (page 119)

I heard of a minister who said he was making it his ‘mission in life’ to get Bridge to Terabithia off the shelves of every library in school. I thought Man, get yourself a larger mission. (p. 114)

 

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE SENSATIONAL SAGA OF SIR STINKS-A-LOT by Dav Pilkey (2015)

This is the twelfth novel by genius author Dav Pilkey who’s Captain Underpants comic and comical adventures have delighted millions of young readers since first published in 1997. Pilkey’s work has been criticized and continues to be on the top banned book-lists for its offbeat humour and inappropriate  use of language (e.g., fart tinkle, pee-pee) and a view that comic books are ‘dangerous’. How could a book with the word ‘underpants’ be ‘good for children’. In this book, beloved characters George and Harold travel 20 years into the future and we learn that George is happily married with a family as is Harold, except Harold has  is happily married with husband named Billy. My oh my! 

Dav Pilkey: “If the reality you’ve constructed for yourself and your family can be shattered by a children’s book, maybe children’s books aren’t the problem.” (p. 139)

 

GOOSEBUMPS: THE HAUNTED MASK by R. L. Stein (1993)

It’s Halloween and Carly Beth Caldwell is determined to take revenge on Steve & Chuck who have been known to constantly come up on Carly and frighten her. It is her turn to make them scream and so on Halloween night, instead of wearing the duck costume prepared by her mother, Carly goes to The Party Store to purchase the uglies goriest, scariest destined to frighten others. But Carly learns that the mask has powers of its own and goosebumps arise. Another great horror “safe scare” adventure by master storyteller R. L. Stein, though challenged by some who considered it to be ‘inappropriate’ and ‘too scary’ for kid and one columnist, Diana West who claimed that ‘Goosebumps was really pornography for kids’.

R. L. Stein: I learned that rule number one is: never defend yourelf. I was taught that by a media coach.

 

THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS by Katherine Paterson (1978)

Galadrial (Gilly) Hopkins has moved from foster home to foster home and now she is living with Trotter and Gilly is so unhappy. All she wants he is to be reunited with her mother who now lives in California.  Gilly is feisty, smart, rude, resilient, hopeful and oh-so-tought  Hopkins. If there was anything her short life had taught her, it was a person must be tough, Otherwise you were had. (p. 86) And yes, she is the GREAT Gilly Hopkins. This book has been criticized for the ‘bad’ words that are part of Gilly’s vocabulary (e.g, God, damned, hell, retarded). She is also a character who lies and steals and has terrible prejudice against African American people. 

“Oh my poor baby,” 

Gilly was crying now. She couldn’t help herself. “Trotter, it’s all wrogn. Nothing turned out the way it’s supposed to.”

“How you mean supposed to? Life ain’t supposed to be nothing, ‘cept maybe tough.”

“But I always thought that when my mother came…”

“My sweet baby, ain’t no one very told you yet? I reckon I though you had it all figured out.”

“What?”

“That all that stuff about happy endings is lies. The only ending in this world is death. ” (p. 207)

Katherine Paterson: I think up to a certain point, children need to have happy. endings. By the time they’re nine or ten, children of intelligence are looking around and realizing that the world is not all happily-every–after. That is when they’re going to be ready for a book that mirrors the reality of what they’re learning about.” (p. 119)

 

HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIES by Leslea Newman; illus. Laura Cornell (picture book) (1989)

This iconic picture book was first published in 1989 (originally  illustrated b Diana Souza) and was one of the first (the first?) to introduce Heather, who is the only girl in her class who doesn’t have a daddy, but has two mommies. This picture book was one of the most frequently challenged books of the 1990’s. 

Leslea Newman “I am sorry that any child has to grow up knowing that for no reason on earth their family is looked down upon as worthy of scorn or as immoral. It makes me sad and furious and determined to write more books about LGBTQ families, despite some people wishing I would not do so? ” (page 102)


*MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli (1990)

Jerry Spinelli won the Newbery Medal for Maniac Magee, which I would argue is one of the top ten novels for middle age readers of the last 30 years. A classic, indeed that has sold over 3 million copies. I have fond memories of reading this book aloud to my grade five class (they voted it the best of my read aloud books that year). Inspired by the issue of books that have been challenged it was rewarding to read Spinelli’s book. Do yourself a favour and read it again. And if you haven’t read it, put it on your ‘must read’ list.  Maniac Magee is a mighty fine fictional hero, a boy who is orphaned and, now homeless, he is on the run from settling into a home to call his own. And on the run he is. He is a legend as a runner, as someone who can untie knots, as a home-run hitter, as a literacy teacher but most of all for bringing together kids from the Pennsylvania town of Two Mills and the segregated life of blacks and whites in the East End (blacks) and those from the West End (whites). In this book, Jerry Spinelli shows his marvel at storytelling and sentence writing. WOW! (“He didn’t figure he was white any more than the East enders were black. He looked himself  over pretty hard and came up with at least seven different shades and colors right on his own skin, not one of them being what he would call white (except for his eyeballs, which weren’t any whiter than the eyeballs of the kids in the East End.” (p. 58)

Even though it is regularly assigned to fifth and sixth grade readers in schools, Maniac Magee is frequently on the American Library Associations list of challenged books. (mild profanity, a kid choosing to beat the system by living on the streets   and especially the depiction of racism.) In the early 1990s’ the South African government distributed  copies of the book to help transition during the end of apartheid. Spinelli has never shied away from tough topics (Wringer/ peer pressure towards violence; The Warden’s Daughter / a girl grows up without a mother in a county prison and Milkweed (the story of a Jewish boy set during the Holocaust).

Jerry Spinelli  has said in interviews, that he is only concerned about telling a story with believable characters and doesn’t worry whether kids can handle more mature themes. “Its the world their growing up in…They have their own problems, the same problems that I had when I was their age.” 

 

MEXICAN WHITE BOY by Matt de la Pena (2008) (YA)

I’m familiar (and admire) picture books author Matt de la Pena, the first American Author to win the Newbery Medal for Last Stop on Market Street, illustrated by Christian Robinson.  Milo Imagines the World (illus by Christian Robinson) was on my top five list of picture books in 2021. His novel titles include Ball Don’t Lie, We Were Here, and I Will Save You. Mexican White Boy is his second novel which tells the story of Danny who is Half-Mexican brown and who is quiet and introspective. “He’s Mexican because his family’s Mexican , but he’s not really Mexican. His skin is dark like is grandma’s sweet coffee, but his insides are as pale as the cream she mixes in.” (p.90).The story is set in san Diego close to the Mexican border where he hopes to be reunited with his father who supposedly moved there. Danny is spending the summer with his father’ family where he develops a friendship with Uno, who also longs to be reunited with his father. De La Pena paints a vivid portrait of life in a barrio in Southern California and his raw, gritty,  portrayal of Mexican, Black and White adolescent friendships and rivals is told through powerful storytelling. The game of baseball predominates many narrative events: “People would have to see Danny pitch to believe it.” The character of Danny came out of the author’s personal family experiences. Controversy for this book title began in Tucson Arizona when the Mexican-American Studies Program was being challenged by people in power. Somebody from the program had mate the statement at a Mexican American event that “Republicans hate Mexicans. the book was caught up in a political struggle. 

Matt De La Pena ended up visiting the high school to which he was originally invited: The closing of the program had actually further motivated the Mexican American kids. The had begun to fight for the program. At one point, they had even chained themselves to some desks in city hall. They were activists now. That visit, which the savvy school librarian had managed to arrange without the superintendent or the principal knowing about it, was the most powerful experience I ever had has an author….The experience “made me understand the power of literature. It made me realize that a book is bigger than a book.”  (p. 9-10)

 

*ROLL OF THUNDER HEAR MY CRY by Mildred D. Taylor (1976)

Cassie Logan lives with her family, farmers in Mississippi in the 1930s. The novel features the racist attitude of American Whites in telling the story of the Logans who battle racism to keep their land and stay together. The episodes of racism are harrowing: The Logan children are harassed by a school bus full of white children,  Cassie takes a trip to a nearby town and is greeted with disrespect, The Wallace boys (owners of the local store) burn some black men (killing one), The blacks are urged to boycott the store, Papa Logan’s leg is broken during a violent attack, the Logan family is force to pay a loan. The novel was the recipient of the 1977 Newbery Medal.  This is a powerful novel, rich in narration, about a family that struggles with indignities, lives with pride and strength and fights for freedom and justice. The Logan family appear in a number of novels by the author  (The Land, Mississippi Bridge, Song of the Trees, Let the Circle Be Unbroken).

A frequently challenged book for its harsh depiction of racism and is use of racial slurs. Jim Crow laws, White supremacy, racial lynching have resulted  in the banning of this book for fear of harm to black students. 

SHOUT OUT: THREE TERRIFIC NOVELS

The following recent titles for middle years readers unpack the topic of censorship and how students take action to deal with book banning. 

 

ANSWERS IN THE PAGES by David Levithan

This rather short novel (163 pages) is presented as three alternating narrative: 1) an adventure story about two boys who are trying to prevent an evil genius from acquiring The Doomsday Code that will destroy life; 2) a relationship story about two young boys  who come to realize that their might be falling in love; 3) 2) a ‘now’ story, where Donovan’s mother protests the teaching of The Adventurers because the two characters (as we learn on the last page realize they deeply love each other .When out gay teacher, Mr. Howe  brings the novel The Adventurers into the classroom for all his students to read, troubles erupt in Donovan’s life  and the life of the school. Moreover,  learning unfolds as students, educators and families fight to stand up for their beliefs and fight for what’s right.  Kids might have many questions about , but they are sure to find some ‘answers to their questions, in the pages’ of David Levithan’s  important new book,  indeed worthy of a shout-out.  

excerpt from Answers on the Pages

“There is nothing about being queer that deserves censorship rather than expression. Nothing. This should not be a matter of debate because a person’s humanity should never be a matter of debate. Instead it is a matter of the highest principal we can aspire to, which is equality.”

 

ATTACK OF THE BLACK RECTANGLES by Amy Sarig King 

Mac and his grade 6 classmates are assigned to read The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen, a powerful novel about time travel in to the Holocaust. As they embark on the reading the book, they discover that some words have been blacked out because someone deemed them in appropriate for young readers (Spoiler: the word ‘breasts’ has been scratched out Mac and his friends are determined to confront censorship and meetings with the principal and with the parents’ council add to the students’ frustration. This is an engaging  story about activism and young people’s determination to uphold the TRUTH (even about Christopher Columbus and his discovery of American). 


BAN THIS BOOK by Alan Gratz

A fourth-grader fights back when her favourite book is banned from the school library. In protest, she starts her own illegal locker lending library which becomes a huge successful venture. 

 

OF SPECIAL INTEREST

GENDER QUEER: A memoir by Mia Kobare (YA)

The most banned book of 2021-2022, removed from school libraries and classrooms on at least 41 separate instances. 

People who are ‘genderqueer’ may see themselves as being both male and femaile, neither male nor female  or being completely outside these categories. Presented in graphic format, this memoir recounts the author’s journey from adolescence to adulthocod and with honest words and images provides and exploration of gender identity and sexuality.  The author pours out her heart, her confusions and her grappling of how to come out to her family and society. They ultimately define as being outside the gender binary. The book was banned and challenged for its LGBTQIA+ content and for its explicit images (i.e., masturbation and fantasies, the trauma of a pap smear test, the use sex toys). 

 

FYI; Article Toronto Star

by Ira Wells, November 27, 2022


“I joined a book club at my kids’ school, unwittingly writing myself int a long history of literary censorship” 

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2022/11/27/i-joined-a-book-audit-at-my-kids-school-unwittingly-writing-myself-into-a-long-history-of-literary-censorship.html

 

FYI: Article… New Yorker magazine

by Jessica Winter, July 11, 2022

“What Should A Queer Children’s Book Do?” 
How a vital burgeoning genre or kid lit is being threatened across the country

ttps://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-education/lgbt-books-kids-ban

 

FYI: BANNED BOOKS: The World’s Most Controversial Books, Past and Present

DK Penguin Random House

Page by page, this book provides a document of controversial, provocative, and revolutionary literature whose publication has been been curtailed at some point in history. An overview and description of titles that have been  is provided in 1-3 pages, with illustration. Some titles include The Canterbury tales, Frankenstein, Ulysses, 1984, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingvird, I Know Why the Caged Bird sings, The Handmaid’s Tale, and more recently The Kite Runner, The Absoultely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and ,.

 

>>>>>>>>   <<<<<<<<

Of the 2500 books challenged in school districts in the United States, do any of these banned book titles surprise you?

Harriet the Spy (Louise Fitzhugh); Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White); The Giver (Lois Lowry); The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis); A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle); The Giving Tree (Shel Silverstein); The Family Book (Todd Parr); Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak); Drama (Raina Telgemeier); The Call of the Wild (Jack London); Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson); Where’s Waldo? (Martin Hanford); THe Witches  (Roald Dahl); The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas): The New Kid (Jerry Craft); George/Melissa (Alex Gino): All Boys Aren’t Blue (George M. Johnson): Gender Queer (Maia Kobabe); If I ran the Zoo (Dr. Seuss); Maus (Art SpiegelmanTo Kill a Mockingbird  (Harper Lee): (The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank); 

GROWN UP READS; Fall 2022

 It has been a great month for reading great books. Several titles are deserved of shout-outs and will be on my list of great reads of 2022.  Special favourites are titles by favourite authors who have given us another great title where we once again meet beloved characters (Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout; Maureen Fry: and the angel of the North by Rachel Joyce and All The Broken Places by John Boyne).

 

BANNED BOOKS: The World’s Most Controversial Books, Past and Present /DK Penguin Random House / nonfiction

Page by page, this book provides a document of controversial, provocative, and revolutionary literature whose publication has been been curtailed at some point in history. An overview and description of titles that have been  is provided in 1-3 pages, with illustration. Some titles include The Canterbury tales, Frankenstein, Ulysses, 1984, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingvird, I Know Why the Caged Bird sings, The Handmaid’s Tale, and more recently The Kite Runner, The Absoultely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You.

THE BOY WITH TWO HEARTS: A story of hope by Hamed Amiri / biography

After his mother speaks out against he Taliban and is threatened with being executed, Hamed Amiri’s family is forced to flee Afghanistan and set out on a dangerous journey for a year and a half across Russia and Europe before arriving in the UK. Episodes of hiding and robbery and survival are harrowing. Moreover, the author recounts his brother’s crisis with a damaged heart and the desperate need to seek asylum and get sound medical care in the UK. I chose to read this book because I went to see a theatre production of this family’s story at the National Theatre. The harrowing autobiographical story was better in book form than as a play which was a faithful translation of the Amiri journey as refugees and the brother’s deteriorating heart condition. 

JUST BY LOOKING AT HIM by Ryan O’Connell

This is the story of Elliott, a thirty-five-year old, gay fellow with Cerebral Palsy. He has a well-paid job as a writer for a Television comedy.  He has a rather steady relationship with Gup but even though they’ve been together for 6 years (five and three-quarters), Elliott is questioning his gay lifestyle, his new-found interest (obsession) in hiring sex workers, his drinking problem and his identity as a disabled person. Ryan O’Connell has appeared in the Netflix series Special and currently can be seen as a character in Queer as folk. As a writer, he is observant, witty and often moving in his reflections and introspections. This is a book layered with honesty, heart and laughter.   

PICTURES FROM HOME by Larry Sultan (photography; autobiography)

I had never heard of the American photographer, Larry Sultan, but when I learned that his book Pictures From Home was being made into a play that was going to be produced on Broadway in 2023, I decided to get this book in preparation for seeing the play (starring Nathan Lane, Zoe Wannamaker and Danny Burstein).  Sultan’s work is documentary in style, with staged images (that seem to be spontaneous candid shots). In this book, first published in 1992 and re-released in 2017. photographs that apparently features still footage excerpted from home movie , along with is a tribute and story to his parents Irving and Jean and their life in Southern California suburbia. Throughout the book, the author’s voice and transcripts of his mother’s and father’s   conversations help create a biography of an All-American Family (a Jewish family), the pursuit of the American dream and the a revelation what may seem ordinary inside and outside a home. I look forward to seeing the play. 

SMALL THINGS LIKE THESE by Claire Keegan

A good friend suggested that I might like this book. (Isn’t it terrific when your friends know what books you might like?) Small Things Like These is a small novella  (114 pages) but it’s themes and emotions are so affecting. The story is set in 1985 Ireland. The protagonist is Bill Furlong, a coal and fuel  merchant who’s business keeps his family wife of five girls afloat while others are struggling. Christmas is approaching and Bill goes about his deliveries, with stories of his past swimming through his head. An encounter with nuns at a local laundry sets further contemplation and worries for Furlong.  A quiet book where the landscape of an Irish community and the landscape of a compassionate hard-working man’s mind intersect.  A gem of a book!!! 

 

SHOUT OUT

ALL THE BROKEN PLACES by John Boyne

All the Broken Places is a sequel of sorts to the author’s international bestseller The Boy in the Striped Pajamas which has sold over 11 million copies worldwide and is a huge success, despite some controversy of historical accuracy.  Boyne first conceived the idea for this new novel  shortly after completing The Boy in 2006. This book centres on the character of ninety-one year old Gretel Fernsby, now living a comfortable life in London but deeply haunted by the crimes of her father the commandant of Auschwitz and the responsibility she had in her brother’s death. The narrative and settings of Gretel’s story change from London, to Paris, to Australia to Berlin.  The widow is determined to hold the secrets of the past in her heart until confronted by others who will unpack the truth. A central story involves her relationship with young Henry who lives in Greta’s apartment building. Henry’s abusive, domineering father is something that Gretel hopes to deal with, even though it threatens her true identity and current comforts in life. I’m not sure that it is essential to have read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas but having that story inside you will certainly have an impact on reading this sequel. And even thought the audience for Pajamas was young adolescents, All the Broken Places is intended for adult readers. I am a HUGE fan of John Boyne’s writing (both for adults and young people).  I’ve always wondered when reviews commented that a book was ‘gripping’ but All the Broken Places was Gripping with a capital G.  A devastating story of grief and of guilt. A At the top of my best reads of 2022, if not at  the very top! Astounding!!!!

SHOUT OUT

AMY & LAN by Sadie Jones

I’m drawn to adult books which have young people as the central protagonists (e.g. Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart) and British author Sadie Jones presents two narrators, Amy  & Lan, two dear friends who grow up in a west country farm in England. Amy’s and Lan’s parents who are best friends (and another family) move to place called Firth determined to fulfill a dream of living on a farm. The chapters alternate between Amy and Lan’s voices as they observe a life of growing vegetables, milking goats, slaughtering chickens and scything hay. The grown-ups are far too busy to keep an eye on their children which suits Amy & Lan as they have adventures of their own, partake in celebrations and countryside rituals and come-of-age through encounters of family, friends, strangers and animals. The family’s decision to move from the city was a brave one and persevere they do.  As the two main characters pass from year to year they offer a telescopic view of nature, loyalty and betrayal. I so loved the farm as character. I so loved the bond between this young boy and girl, their courage, humour and resilience. I so loved this book. 

SHOUT OUT

LUCY BY THE SEA by Elizabeth Strout

My oh my! What a special writer Elizabeth Strout is, indeed one of my favourite authors for adult fiction. I have always enjoyed reading about Lucy Barton (My Name is Lucy Barton; Oh William!) and I’m going to say that this new novel is the best of the best. In this story Lucy’s ex-husband lures the celebrated author  away from her home in New York to live in a little house in Maine in order to be protected  her from the trials and fears of the  Pandemic. We learn about Lucy’s dealing with the grief after losing a loving husband, of her devotion to her two daughters, and events from her years of poverty that shaped her outlook on life. It is a  story of panic and worry and regrets and hope and deep human connections. What a marvel Elizabeth Strout is at conjuring fictional memories, dreams and conversations. Oh those wonderful wonderful anecdotes :Lucy/ Elizabeth conjures up about people sin her past and present life. As Lucy, Strout writes. “This is the question that has made me a writer: always the deep desire to know what it feels like to be a different person.” I finished reading this early this morning with goosebumps on my skin and in my heart.Absolutely Lucy By The Sea will be on my top list of great reads in 2022.  Exquisite!

SHOUT OUT 

MAUREEN FRY and the Angel of the North by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is one of my all time favourite novels. I so enjoyed The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy where we revisit a special character from the first book. With Maureen Fry and the Angel of the North, Rachel Joyce completes the trilogy. Settled into her life with her husband, Harold, Maureen Fry  receives unsettling message from Northern England and is determined to embarks on a journey to visit the Garden of Relics assembled by Queenie in Northern England. Her mission is to find an answer to the mysterious monument created for her son, David, who had committed suicide. Readers accompany Maureen as comes to term with her past, deals with grief and comes to learn more about herself and the world of kindnesses and love.  Joyce has written another novel with deep feeling, p0werful encounters, and poignant views of the world we live in.  Thank you Ms. Joyce for this touching novel , which though short  (126 pages), packs a punch for one of your many fans. 

 

>>>>>  SHOUT OUT <<<<<

THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO 52 Large and Small Joys for Today and Everyday

Sophie Blackall

A handbook of personal stories and paintings; a list of 52 things to look forward to 

Award winning author-illustrator Sophie Blackall (Hello Lighthouse; If You Come to Earth…) presents a collection of joyful things to consider, to aspire to to ensure that we life is lived optimistically. Through 52 short personal stories accompanied with remarkable paintings, Blackall offers a handbook of things to notice to make the most of our time here on Earth: A Hot Shower; A New Word; First Snow; A Full Moon; Listening to a Song You’ve Never Heard Before; Moving the Furniture Around; Making A List; Coming Home. I so loved this inspirational gem that I bought 10 copies that will take care of much of my Christmas / Chanukah gift-giving for friends and relatives young and old.  

 

 

PICTURE BOOKS

This posting features a list of 10 titles, each one rather different from the next. Some favourites of the batch, made the SHOUT OUT list.

 

COCOA MAGIC by Sandra Bradley; illus. Gabrielle Grimard

Great Uncle Lewis owns a chocolate shop and eight year old Daniel loves helping to mix, pour and mold chocolates. Daniel is also is on a secret mission to share chocolate delights with students in his class who seem to be having troubles. Cocoa Magic is a delicious story about empathy and  spreading kindness.

“The gift-giving was unstoppable.”

THE DON’T WORRY BOOK by Todd Parr

We all worry at sometime, but master picture book artist, Todd Parr captures things that some young people might worry about (meeting someone for the first time, the dark, when someone is being mean, when you are alone) and offers advice on how to conquer worrying (take deep breaths, visit friends, dance, and most of all remembering everyone who loves and takes care of you. Another Parr winner!

“Worrying doesn’t help you. If you are worried, talk to someone you love about it. It will make you feel better.”

FROM FAR AWAY by Robert Munsch and Saoussan Askar; illus. Rebecca Green

This story was originally published in 1995 with illustrations by Michael Martchenko.  In 2017, Munsch and Askar’s story was published with new illustrations by Rebecca Green.  The book first grew out of a letter that Saoussan Askar wrote to Munsch about her life as a refugee. When war strikes her city, Saoussan is forced to leave home and move far away. Based on Askar’s experiences, life for the young girl in a new school is scary and confusing (the plane ride; the teacher’s conversations; playing with others; going to the washroom, a paper skeleton).

A note from the author: Sauossan completed a Bachelor degree in Health Studies and a Master of Arts degree in Sociology. 

“Writing and publishing this story made me realize how many people struggle with finding a place of their own and with being understood by those around them. I have had people from all walks of life share with me their own stories of struggles and integration.”

LIKE by Annie Barrows; illus. Leo Espinosa

How are we, as humans like other things on earth – a tin can, a swimming pool, an excavator, a mushroom, a hyena.  A book that introduces the concept of simile, but more than that it is a celebration of human differences and similarities. 

“I am more like you than I am like most things on Earth.”

THE REAL “DADA” MOTHER GOOSE: A Treasury of Complete Nonsense by Jon Scieszka; illus Julia Rothman (poetry)

Jon Scieszka first began to delight readers with his comic gem The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. His fractured poems of parody  in Science Verse and Trucktown Truckery Rhymes  provide a joyful word-play journey into the world of nursery rhymes.  The Real Dada Mother Goose is a collection of absurd, nonsensical and oh-so-inventive rhymes of poems that may or may not be familiar to young readers. Includes such formats as code, hieroglyphics, comic strip,  crossword, recipe,  rebus, and anagram. Clever! Clever! Clever! Note: Dada = the rejection of reason and rational thinking. 

Jack be imble-nay.

Jack be ick-quay.

Jack ump-jay over-yay the andlestick-cay. 

SUN IN MY TUMMY by Laura Alary; illus. Andrea Blinicke

Sun In My Tummy describes how plants turn air and water and sunlight into food. In free verse style, the author introduces readers to the concepts of matter and energy and how the sun’s light becomes fuel for our bodies through the food we eat. This is a great great STEM story. 

“Inside everything if you look deep enough, you will find the sun. Warm-hearted. Generous. Giving.”

TELLING STORIES WRONG by Gianni Rodari; illus. Beatrice Alemagna; translated from the Italian by Antony Shuggaar

As he tells the story of Little Red Riding Hood,   Grandpa keeps mixing thing up, only to be corrected by his granddaughter.  Gianni Rodari is concerned to be the father of modern Italian children’s literature and this whimsical, twisted tale is sure to delight , bring smiles and ignite ‘baci’ between adult and young reader. 

“Oh right! So the horse said to her…”

“What horse, Grandpa? It was a wolf?”

SHOUT OUT

THE BLUE SCARF by Mohamed Danawi; illus. Ruaida Manna

Layla is given a beautiful new blue scarf which she wears with pride. When a gust of wind carries the scarf away, Layla sets out to leave her blue country  and journeys by boat to other worlds, each of a different colour. This is a poignant that works on many levels, but particularly for mining the theme of emigration and acceptance.  What a special picture this is!

“Proudly wear who you are no matter where you are.”

SHOUT OUT

STILL THIS LOVE GOES ON by Buffy Sainte-Marie; illus. by Julie Flett

I was thrilled to see this title listed as one of the top ten illustrated books of the year, according to the New York Times.  Award-winning Cree-Metis author and illustrator, Julie Flett has provided stunning images to match the lyrics by Cree singer-songwriter, Buffy Saine-Marie. The words and images combine to present a love letter to the seasons, to community and to Indigenous traditions.  Wow!

“In every dream, I can smell the sweetgrass burning. And in my heart, I can hear the drum.”

SHOUT OUT 

THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO 52 Large and Small Joys for Today and Everyday

Sophie Blackall

A handbook of personal stories and paintings; a list of 52 things to look forward to 

Award winning author-illustrator Sophie Blackall (Hello Lighthouse; If You Come to Earth…) presents a collection of joyful things to consider, to aspire to to ensure that we life is lived optimistically. Through 52 short personal stories accompanied with remarkable paintings, Blackall offers a handbook of things to notice to make the most of our time here on Earth: A Hot Shower; A New Word; First Snow; A Full Moon; Listening to a Song You’ve Never Heard Before; Moving the Furniture Around; Making A List; Coming Home. I so loved this inspirational gem that I bought 10 copies that will take care of much of my Christmas / Chanukah gift-giving for friends and relatives young and old.  

 

FYI

Each year the New York Times selects a list of the best illustrated books. The following list presents the titles of the 10 winners for 2022 as published in the New York Times, Sunday November 13, 2022.

 

BEDTIME FOR BO by Kjersti annesdatte Skomsvold; illus by Mri Kanstad Johnsen (translated by Kari Dickson)

FARMHOUSE by Sophie Blackall

THE NEW ROOSER by Rilla Alexander

NIGHT LUNCH be Eric Fan; illus. Dona Selferling

STILL THIS LOVE GOES ON written by Buffy Sainte-Marie; illus. Julie Flett

TELLING STORIES WRONG by Gianni Rodari; illus. Beatrice Alemagne

THE UPSIDE DOWN HAT by Stephen Barr; illus. Grace Zhang

WHERE BUTTERFLIES FILL THE SKY by Zahra Marwan

THE WRITER by Davide Cali; illus. Monica Barengo

YELLOW DOG BLUES by Alice 

 

A POTPOURRI OF BOOKS (ages 9- 16)

This posting includes a range of fiction, nonfiction, biography, poetry titles that served me great reading pleasure over the past 6 weeks and guaranteed to engage readers from grades 5-9.  I’m betting that some of these titles will be receiving awards. 

 

FICTION

 

ATTACK OF THE BLACK RECTANGLES by Amy Sarig King 

Mac and his grade 6 classmates are assigned to read The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen, a powerful novel about time travel in to the Holocaust. As they embark on the reading the book, they discover that some words have been blacked out because someone deemed them in appropriate for young readers (Spoiler: the word ‘breasts’ has been scratched out Mac and his friends are determined to confront censorship and meetings with the principal and with the parents’ council add to the students’ frustration. This is an engaging  story about activism and young people’s determination to uphold the TRUTH (even about Christopher Columbus and his discovery of American).

 THE BOY LOST IN THE MAZE by Joseph Coelho (YA) (FREE VERSE)

This sophisticated narrative told in poems  connects the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur with the story of a teenager who is on a quest to find his biological father.  Theseus bravely conquers or murders enemies who interrupt his path to find his father. Theo, a modern-day youth in his final year of school is tricked on his own journey to find out the truth about is father. Both journeys intertwine as two youths discover the meaning of manhood.  The stories are outlined in alternating chapters with staggering illustrations by Kate Milner. At times, Coelho offers readers a choose your own adventure alternative plots to follow. Unique in form and content, with vivid poetic verbal and visual images, The Boy Lost in the Maze is a strong exploration of myth and reality for strong readers.  

THE DOOR OF NO RETURN by Kwame Alexander (YA) (FREE VERSE / HISTORICAL FICTION)

Award-winning poet, Kwame Alexander tells a powerful story about an eleven-year-old African boy named Kofi  Offin, who gets stolen and sold into slavery.The story is set in Ghana in the 19th century and through poems, tells the story of Kofi’s life in school, bullying, his adoration of a village girl, his admiration of his older brother, and his skills as a swimmer. The final part of the book is harrowing describing Kofi and other black boys who are on board a ship where they will lose any sense of freedom they hoped for. To be sure, another awards awaits Alexander for this remarkable historical fiction that is an opening of doors thatprovides a back story of slaves, and truth about the history of African Americans. This is the first book of a trilogy, the saga of an African family that helps to fulfill the African proverb: We desire to bequeath two things to our children; the first one is roots; the other one is wings.  

THE LAST BEAR by Hannah Gold 

I’m always intrigued to read Waterstones Book choice of the year and The Last Bear is the 2022 winner of best fiction.  A young girl and her father or on a mission on an Arctic post for six months. Her father is so immersed in his research to measure the changing Northern temperatures, that April is free to wanter the island on her own. Even though she was informed that polar bears no longer live on Bear Island, she is astounded one day toe meet a bear who is lonely, hungry and just like April, a long way from home. April and Bear come to develop a strong bond and the two friends journey throughout the island (April rides bears back). April keeps Bear a secret from her father (who really isn’t paying much attention to her) but  April questions why bear is alone and how climate change has removed in from his famiiar life she takes action and becomes determined to save the bear  – and take action to save the planet. An inspiring story about animal/human bonding and an important story to help readers thing about climate change. A thrilling adventure!

SPACEBOY by David Walliams illus. Adam Stower (ages 9-12) 

Once a year i got to read a new novel by David Walliams and have a good adventurous and humourous read.  Dare I say that Mr. Walliams’s recent title seems to make a little shift in narrative, characterization and formatting.  The protagonist is not boy, but a twelve-year old orphaned girl named Ruth. This story is not set in the UK, but in America in the 1960’s.  Events are still wild but didn’t seem as preposterous (or rude) as Billionaire Boy, Ratbuger, Demon Detnist or Bad Dad.  The author takes readers on a journey with a flying saucer that crash-lands in a cornfield and the meeting up with an Alien creature.  This novel,  like previous fictional titles by the author, is filled with varied fonts, inventive words and an abundance of illustrations by Adam Stower whose comical style accompanies Walliams comical style (and now seems to be the authors’ partner in mischievous narrative). A story of alien creatures and space race adventures between America and Russia is sure to please  young readers as much as it did with me.  

TYGER by SF Said

Readers are quickly drawn into the story when Adam, who is forced to live in a ghetto with his Muslim family, when early in the novel he discovers something incredible in a rubbish dump in London, It is Tyger and Tyger is in danger. Adam (who dreams of being an artist) and Zadie (who dreams of being a writer),  are determined to save the tyger at all costs. But this is a more than a survival story. Set in in an alternative 21st. century London, the world is on the verge of destruction and Tyger inspires the two friends to use their powers of perception, imagination and and to save their family and their community.  A friend from England highly recommended this novel by award-winning author SF Said, best known for his novel Varjak Paw. The reviews from Britain have the stuff of any author’s dream: “an utter masterpiece”; “breathtaking”; “absolutely blown away”; “extraordinary”; “a gem”; “a classic”; ‘the publishing event of the year”.  Tyger is a magical, mythical story with stark cinematic images and thrilling adventure that are sure to engage lovers of fantasy. Disclaimer, I am not a lover of fantasy and tend to stay away from Dystopian narratives.  There is no doubt that SF Said is a great storyteller and has here presented a thought-provoking good vs evil work about colonialism, classism, racism and spirituality. There are some breathtaking episodes (public hanging; entering a magical world beyond doors ).   Breathtaking too are the dynamic black and white illustrations by artist Dave McKean which add power as the pages are turned. Yes, a thrilling ride and a challenging one for its allusions,  symbolism and fantasy. 

THE UNDERCOVER BOOK LIST by Colleen Nelson

Tyson is known as the class troublemaker and Jane the the class bookworm join forces within a secret club to find Jane a new book-loving friend. Canadian novelist, Colleen Nelson weaves two stories together. where each character discovers their own self-reliance and courage to overcome obstacles. This novel is a finalist for several book awards and will particularly engage middle-age readers who think about their identities (who doesn’t?) and how caring, empathetic  friendships are built.

 

NONFICTION 

 

THE ANTIRACIST KID: A Book about Identity, Justice and Activism by Tiffany Jewell; illus. Nicole Miles 

Tiffany Jewell is the author of This Book is Anti-Racist and this publication guides readers into answering such questions asWhat is Racism? and What is Antiracism. This informative how-to book is divided into three sections: IDENTITY; JUSTICE; RACISM helping to teach readers how to recognize racism and injustice and motivate them to think about what they can do about them at at school, in the community, in the world. The book is beautifully laid out with colorful illustrations, quotes vocabulary and facts. Hooray for this thoughtful – essential guide for caring citizens ages 9-13. Bravo!

THE MISSING by Michael Rosen (Ages 11+) (BIOGRAPHY)

British author Michael Rosen had heard stories about his great uncles who were there before the war, but not after. Rosen embarks on research to discover the true story of his family in World War II and takes readers on an investigative journey to find about the disappearance of people lost during the holocaust. 

MORDECHAI ANIELEWICZ: NO TO DESPAIR by Rachael Hausfater (Ages 12+)
(translated by Alison L. Strayer) (BIOGRAPHY)

Set in Poland during the Holocaust, No to Despair is a powerful account of the final days of the life of Mordechai Anielwicz, the young leader of the Jewish Fighting Organization that led to the insurrection agains the Nazi control. Anielewicz was a revolutionary leader with resolve and immense strength of resistance with obligations to defend each other, no matter the costs. “The opposite of despair is not hope, it’s struggle.” This title is part of the “They Said No” historical fiction series from Seven Stories Press for young readers about protestors, activists and revolutionaries (e.g., Harvey Milk, Primo Levi, George Sand, Victor Hugo)

OVERHEARD IN A TOWER BLOCK by Joseph Coelho; illus. Kate Milner (ages 11+) (POETRY)

Joseph Coelho, award-winning poet,  is the Waterstones Children’s Laureate 2022-2024. Overheard in a Tower Block is an anthology of his poems illuminating life growing up in a city. 

As your book forms its leaves,

as you leave the story for others to read,

make sure you bind well your spine,

Don’t let the ink smudge on a word.

For you yourself are a book.

You yourself are a library. 

>>>>>>>> <<<<<<<<

SHOUT OUT: FICTION

A ROVER’s STORY by Jasmine Warga

Resilience (Rez for short) is a robot built to explore Mars and send information about life on the planet. When Mars and his companion, a friendly drone helicopter named Fly, navigate Mars, they soon discover the dangers of dust storms and giant cliffs. From the beginning of the story, we learn that Rez is developing humanlike emotions which is most unusual for a Rover. The novel is structured into five parts (‘Preparing’; ‘Launch” ‘Roving’; ‘Our Mission’; ‘Home’.) Interspersed throughout the novel is a series of letters written over decades by Sophie, the daughter of a NASA scientist who helped to create the robot. Though Rez will never read these letters they bring an added sense of humanity  to the narrative.  The adventures are told in the first person view of the robot which inspires both understanding and compassion for readers about space exploration.  This book came to me when I asked a bookseller to recommend the best book she recently read who handed me a copy of A Rover’s Story with great enthusiasm, This piece of fiction, inspired by real life Rovers,  is guaranteed to be a huge success read widely by readers, especially 9- 12. It is already listed on The New York Times bestseller’s list for Middle Age fiction. An enthralling read!

Author’s note: “To me, a novelists job is to use fiction to take something true and bring it to life in a unique and exciting way. This isa book that is informed by scientific facts but made whole through imagination.”

SHOUT OUT: FICTION

TWO DEGREES by Alan Gratz (fiction, ages 10-14)

Author, Alan Gratz has done it again. He’s written another thrilling adventure story – make that THREE amazing stories  – in this novel about characters entrapped in three climate disasters. The book is divided into six parts, plus epilogue. Each part presents a narrative about different characters. This alternating has worked successfully for Gratz before (Refugee; Ground Zero) and in this novel, the author presents grab-your-throat adventures that moves the readers along (I suppose, one could choose to focus on one story at a time). Akira is caught in the wildfires of California; Own and George are threatened by hungry polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba and Natalie is dragged into a massive hurricane which comes crashing through Miami. Each of these characters are swept in the devastating effect of climate change and it is more than their stories of survival that connects them. This is a powerful important novel of our times, helping readers thing about the urgency of the climate crisis and what individuals can do to make a difference. This book, like other Gratz titles, will be widely read. This book should be read. Fasten your seat belts, this is an amazing work of fiction. Amazing! 

SHOUT OUT 

THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO 52 Large and Small Joys for Today and Everyday

Sophie Blackall

A handbook of personal stories and paintings; a list of 52 things to look forward to 

Award winning author-illustrator Sophie Blackall (Hello Lighthouse; If You Come to Earth…) presents a collection of joyful things to consider, to aspire to to ensure that we life is lived optimistically. Through 52 short personal stories accompanied with remarkable paintings, Blackall offers a handbook of things to notice to make the most of our time here on Earth: A Hot Shower; A New Word; First Snow; A Full Moon; Listening to a Song You’ve Never Heard Before; Moving the Furniture Around; Making A List; Coming Home. I so loved this inspirational gem that I bought 10 copies that will take care of much of my Christmas / Chanukah gift-giving for friends and relatives young and old.  

FALL INTO PICTURE BOOKS 2022

This a  posting of ten new picture books that came my way this fall, varied in format (e.g., autobiography,  biography, poetry) and theme (e.g., prejudice, cancer, assisted dying and gg donation
 
 
A DOOR MADE FOR ME by Tyler Merritt; illus. Lonnie Ollivierre
 
When on a vacation to visit his grandparents, Tyler enjuys going on fishing trips with his new friend Jack. When the two boys want to show their buckets full of catches,  a door is slammed in Tyler’s face because of the colour of his skin. This story, based on the author’s experiences, can help young people come to understand the challenge of overcoming prejudice – and opening doors. .
 
“But remember sweet boy, you are loved. And you are perfect just as you are. Another person’s hate doesn’t change that. You’ll find a door that’s right for you – and when you do, be sure to leave it open for the next kids struggling to get in.”
 
EVABEL by Katie Doering and Krista Perdue; illus. Alexandra Sanches
 
 A feisty playful child who enjoys tinkering and loves  making people smile and laugh, until the day she is diagnosed with a cancer diagnosis. This is a sensitive and engaging narrative about children dealing with cancer and their courageous journey being treated in the hospital.
 
“As she looked around the crowd, she realized staying at the hospital was hard at times, but it didn’t stop her from doing what she loved.”
 
I’M STICKING WITH YOU by Smriti Halls; illus. Steve Small
 
A bear and a squirrel depend on each other in good times and bad times. A wonderful wonderful. book about needing friends (even when we sometimes need our own spaces)  Sequel: I‘m Sticking With You, Too
 
“Whether we’re losing
or whether we win
We’ll be there together
Through thick and through thin.”
 
 LAST WEEK by Bill Richardson; illus. Leduc (ages 11+)
 
A child cherishes every moment, day by day, of their grandmother’s last week of life in this poignant portrayal of Assisted Dying.
 
Six hundred four thousand and eight hundred seconds Those are all the seconds any work, even a last week, can hold.”
 
NONNA & THE GIRLS NEXT DOOR by Gianna Patriarca; illus. Ellie Arscott
 
A celebration of play, neighbours and Nonna’s. This is a hearwarming story about the bond between grandmothers and grandchildren.
 
“The girls next door having everything. But they dont have my nonna.”
 
OUT INTO THE BIG WIDE LAKE by Paul Harbridge; illus. Josee Bisaillon
 
This story about a young girl, named Kate,  and the special times visiting with her grandparents in their lakeside home, is based on the author’s own sister who has Down Syndrome. Delivering groceries by boat is a special adventure, a special bond between Kate and her grandfather. Kate is put to the test of piloting the boat when her grandfather suddenly takes ill.
 
“Grandma took Kate’s hand, and they steered the boat together. Pull, and the boat went one ays. Push, and the boat went the other.”

POEMS LOUD by Joseph Coelho; illus. Daniel Gray-Barnett (poetry)
 
Joseph Coelho is the Waterstones Children’s Laureate 2022-24 and this collection of poems is designed readers to discover performance and writing techniques in order to build confidence with poetry and joy in reading poems aloud.
 
“When I’m happy
my cheeks feel like rosebuds,
my tummy glows with sunlight,
my shoulders are a forest breeze.”
 
SMILE OUT LOUD by Joseph Coelho; illus. Daniel Gray-Barnett (poetry)
 
This collection of 25 ‘happy poems’ intends to help young readers experience the fun of poetry and the spoken word.
 
“I woke up with a smile
as a dream tickled my head
I dreamed I was a crocodile
and marshmallows were my bed. “
 
TA-DA by Ellie Kay; illus. Farida Zaman
Hooray to Second Story press for publishing the first – and only – picture book that tells the story of Egg Donation.
 
“Mama, Dada, tell me again how I was made.”
 
THERE ONCE IS A QUEEN by Michael Morpurgo; illus. Michael Foreman

This book, by two British  children’s literature masters ,Michael Morpurgro (author ) and Michael Foreman (llustrator) to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee.  This treasured book is a celebration of Britain’s longest reigning monarch and beloved world figure. With her passing September 8, 2022, This is A Queen further serves as a tribute to the history and monumental life of a monarch devoted to crown, country and family.  This is an exquisite keepsake for past, present and future generations, young and old. 

There once is a Queen ever constant to her people…”

 

>>>>>>>>> <<<<<<<< 

Shout Out to the MARILYN BAILLIE best picture book of 2021 awarded to TIME IS A FLOWER written and illustrated by Julie Morstad.

Shout Out to Sheree Fitch and illustrator Carolyn Fisher for winning the first David Booth Poetry Award for their picture book SUMMER FEET

Shout Out to David A. Robertson and illustrator Julie Flett for receiving the $50 000 TD Canadian Children’s Literature prize for their picture book ON THE TRAPLINE as best book of 2021.

 

 

MIDDLE YEARS FICTION 2022

Ten Great Novels for Readers ages 9 -12, each deserved of a shout out. Some titles are sure to appear on my top ten list of books at year’s end. 

 

SHOUT OUT

KEY PLAYER: A Front Desk novel by Kelly Yang

We first met Mia Tang in the terrific novel, Front Desk and once again we encounter the adventures he spirit,  the talent and activist nature of this Asian American character. This is the 4th book in the series Front Desk, Three Keys and Room to Dream and readers who have joined in her experiences along the way will not be disappointed as Mia, her friends and family fight for social justice. (note: The books are self-contained. You do not really have to read them in chronological order). Readers come to admire Mia as much as they did in book one and over the years, we get to know Mia deeper, like a good trusted friend. In Key Player, the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup comes to Pasadena. Team China was playing against Team USA. This competition is a strong step for women in sports and for Mia as a Chinese American girl she is conflicted about who she should root for.  As a budding journalist, Mia is determined to meet with the Chinese players and for Mia, where there’s a will there’s a way,  as she battles, sexism and classism and racism. (“You want to rout for China? Then go back to China?” / “I knew you guys were going to be difficult. My colleague warned me. He said, “Don’t take on new immigrants. They’re going to be a lot of work.”‘”Where are you guys from? he asked. “Right here in Anaheim!” I said. But where are you really from?”. Woven into the plot is Mia’s family’s wish to find a house of their own to live in, a Math competition which her best friend Lupe enters (and Mia’s mom coaches), and the return of the tough, Mr. Yao, co-owner of the motel and the tough control he has over his son Jason who is a talented chef. 

As with the other titles in the series, events for this novel are drawn from Kelly Yang’s own past. In the author’s note she writes: I wondered if the stadium – and the United States – had room for both the Chinese and American parts or me. My greatest hope in writing Key Player is for kids to understand that there is room. There’s room for all parts or you. All your history, and hopes and dreams, and shins you’re still figuring out too.”

Kelly Yang writes great books, filled with heart, adventure and humour. Moreover, the Front Desk series guides readers to think about discrimination and the quest for immigrants to find a place where dreams can be realized as they find a place to belong. Kelly Yang’s books must be read. 

P.S  Yang dedicates her book “To everyone who has ever struggled in P.E., like me.

MY LIFE BEGINS by Patricia MacLachan

Patricia MacLachlan is a beloved author (Sarah, Plain and Tall, Word after Word after Word, The Poet’s Dog, Baby) who’s tender stories have  filled the hearts of young readers ages 8-11 for many years. The celebrated author passed away in 2022 and My Life Begins is her first novel published after her death. MacLachlan tells the story of nine-year old Jacob who more than anything would like a puppy but when his mother gives birth to triplets, dreams of getting a new pet need to be put on the side. He gives his three sisters a name: The Trips and through a school research project, Jacob observes and document the growth and charm of his three new sisters. This is an unfussy, rather gentle story about sibling relationships and a  warm portrait of  babies and a boy and change. Thank you for your wonderful wonderful books, Patricia MacLachlan. 

OMAR RISING by Aisha Saeed

We first met Omar in Aisha Saeed’s fine novel Amal Unbound. In this story, Omar is enrolled in the Ghalib Academy a prestigious school in Pakistan that will give Omar, the son of a servant, opportunities for a better future. Upon his arrival, Omar learns that scholarship students cannot join clubs, or teams (he is keen to play soccer) and is obligated to complete 5 hours of extra  chores. each week. Omar invests himself heart and soul into his studies  but when he learns that the school ‘weeds out’. scholarship students like him he is devastated and is moved to take action to change the school rules.  A strong portrayal of school life, academic achievement, friendships and class discrimination. It is an engaging story of a equity and one determined boy’s ‘rising’ and fight for justice. 

THE SECRET BATTLE OF EVAN PAO by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

After their father disappears (a bad business venture), Evan Pao (Pow) moves with his mother and sister from California to Haddington Virginia. Evan discovers that he is the only Chinese American student enrolled in the school, and even though Evan hopes to make the best of it, he and his family encounter Anti-Asian racism. The school name is Battleford and Evan’s teacher is proud to organize Battlefield Day when students dress up like it’s the Civil War and live like people did back then. The project inspires Evan to learn about Chinese soldiers who may have been involved in the War from 18612 to 1865 in the fight between the north and south over slavery.  Evan needs to figure out how his   culture fits into the past, deals hate crimes in the present and move to a future where neighbours accept each other for who they are. Each chapter is centred on. different novel character narrated in the third person.

THE TRYOUT by Christina Soontornvat; illus. Joanna Cacao (graphic autobiography)

The author recounts her experiences of trying out for cheerleader in seventh grade which for her was an ‘exhilarating, horrifying, empowering, and nauseating all at once.’ Soont is Thai/Chinese and her family owned a restaurant in a small town in Texas. When she enthusiastically decides to join the try-outs for the school cheerleading squad (the grade 7 students vote for the winners), she discovers more about competition, loyalty, popularity and especially racism. A boy in her class calls her “Rice Girl” and gets away with it. Christina Soontornvat’s story can resonate with many students today who feel that they are outsiders because of their skin colour or religion.  Three cheers for this terrific, honest story about cheerleading – and fitting in. 

WOLFSTONGUE by Sam Thompson

The story takes place in an underground city, deep in the forest, in a world built by wolves, a world where the foxes live. Silas, a boy who is continuously bullied at school because he is unable to speak out loud helps an injured wolf and is then invited into the secret Forest world dominated by the leader Reynard the fox. A gripping adventure unfolds where Silas (Wolfstongue) is on a mission to help rescue the stolen baby wolves and fight for the last remaining wolves to survive. I’m rather fond of books with  anthropomorphic animal characters (Abel’s Island by William Steig;The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo; The One and Only Ivan by  Katherine Applegate, and much preferred a different story about a fox named Pax  by Sara Pennypacker but I wasn’t as gripped by this book as I’m sure many readers ages 8 to 12 will be. Cover reviews : “The best animated adventure since Watership Down “(The Times); “A hugely original tale” (The Irish Times); “Gripping and profound” (New Statesman); “One of the most extraordinary children’s books I’ve ever read”. Wolfstongue is Irish writer Sam Thompson’s first book for children (, with black and white illustrations by Anna Tromop that show vivid images of story events)  and is certain to be enjoyed by young readers who like to delve into ‘animated’ ‘original’ ‘gripping’ ‘extraordinary’ animal adventures. (spoiler: A sequel The Fox’s Tower will be forthcoming in 2023). (I don’t think I’ll be reading it!!)

THE WORLD’S WORST PETS by David Walliams’; illus. Adam Stower (short stories)

Another wild and funny, ridiculous  and joyous,  collection of ten stories of naughty characters such as Picasso The Pony, Monty The Musical Dog, Furp the Fish and Zoom the Supersonic Tortoise. For millions of readers who have laughed at The World’s Worst Children, The World’s Worst Teachers, The World’s Worst Parents by bestselling author David Walliams, welcome to another whacky reading adventure. To those who haven’t enjoyed a Walliams title, and the brilliant graphic formatting of words and pictures, what have you been waiting for? Shout out to illustrator Adam Stower for cartoon-like drawings that hop, skip and jump off the page, (from page to page).

WORSER by Jennifer Ziegler

Things are going from bad to worser for 12-year-old William Wyatt Orser / W. Orser / Worser. His father died when he was four years old. His mother has had a stroke and is recovering slowly. Artistic, Aunt Iris, has moved into his house and seems to be taking over as surrogate parent (She calls him ‘Potato’). When he enters grade 7, he is  summoned to the principal’s office and they don’t see eye to eye. The school library, a place of refuge for Orser is now closed after school hours. He pines for a girl named Donya who doesn’t seem to feel the same about him.  When the school Literary Club is about to dissolve, Orser saves the day by arranging to have them meet at a local bookstore where he’s made an arrangement with the owner by offering to clean up the storage room. Worser is also a word fanatic and keeps a list of strange words, delicious words, word patterns collected in his lexicon collection he calls ‘Masterwork’. Worser laments that things can’t be the way they always were, especially with the warm relationship he had with his mother, and he struggles to overcome authority, grief and loneliness. This is a wonderful, amusing and heartfelt novel about activism, friendships, family, middle years changes and, yes, word power. 

SHOUT OUT

THE FORT by Gordon Korman

This novel is Gordon Korman’s hundreth book.  Mazel Tov!

In the aftermath of a hurricane, four middle school friends discover an underground bomb shelter. Actually, Ricky, an outsider to the group, is the one who found the trapdoor that lead to the well-equipped underground fort which the five boys vow to keep a secret.  Korman presents each of the chapters  the point of view of one of the characters, each with his own story.  After his presents are forced into rehab, Evan lives with his grandparents, Jason is the pingpong ball in a divorce settlement, Mitchell has a compulsive disorder and lives with his mother who is doing her best as a single mother and CJ who is consistently bruised and battered because of what he says are careless accidents.  The plot thickens when Evan’s older brother and his loathsome friend are out to threaten the boys until they confess where they suddenly are getting money to spend (i.e., expensive silverware left by the shelter’s owner). The Fort is an engaging story about boys sharing secrets and adventures but beyond the terrific plot, is a story that sensitively and realistically deals with such issues as divorce, OCD and abuse. Gordon Korman is a genius at telling appealing stories that appeal to middle-age readers, stories that ring true in discussing friendships, stories that have an out-of-the box inventive narrative that is the stuff of novels.  Mr. Korman deserves a huge shout out for his 100th publication and the multitudes of fans around the world will surely join  along in the shout out, and thank, this terrific author for providing terrific books. 

 

SHOUT OUT

ODDER by Katherine Applegate

Wow! a new book by Katherine Appelgate. I’m a fan and was thrilled to see that she has written another free verse novel (I’m so fond of Home of the Brave) and another story honouring the world of animals (I’m so fond of The One and Only Ivan). Odder is an otter. Life is grand for Odder the brave curious sea otter as she enjoys frolicking off the coast of Central California. One day, Odder is attacked by a great white shark and when she is rescued by humans she learns about the possible dangers of swimming freely in the ocean and humans who care and protect for endangered animals. The story is inspied by the true story of a Monterey Bay Aquarium program that paired surrogate orphaned pups with surrogate pups. Katherine Applegate has – of course done extensive research about sea otters and presents a rich hybrid of novel, non-fiction and poetry in this wonderful wonderful book. 

Humans envy the way

otters sleep on the water, 

paws linked,

untroubled as lily pads.

>>>>>>  >>>>> <<<<<< <<<<<

CANADIAN CHILDREN’S BOOK AWARDS  WERE ANNOUNCED AT AN EVENT ON SEPTEMBER 29th.

Eight prizes in total were awarded \t:

  • On the Trapline, written by David A. Robertson and illustrated by Julie Flett (Tundra Books), won the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award ($50,000)
  • Time is a Flower, written and illustrated by Julie Morstad (Tundra Books), won the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award ($20,000)
  • The Power of Style: How Fashion and Beauty Are Being Used to Reclaim Cultures, written by Christian Allaire and illustrated by Jacqueline Li (Annick Press), won the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non‐Fiction ($10,000)
  • Second Chances, written by Harriet Zaidman (Red Deer Press), won the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People ($5,000)
  • Iron Widow, written by Xiran Jay Zhao (Penguin Teen Canada), won the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award ($5,000)
  • Elvis, Me, and the Lemonade Stand Summer, written by Leslie Gentile (DCB Young Readers), won the Jean Little First-Novel Award ($5,000)
  • Iron Widow, written by Xiran Jay Zhao (Penguin Teen Canada), won the Arlene Barlin Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy ($5,000)
  • Summer Feet, written by Sheree Fitch and illustrated by Carolyn Fisher (Nimbus Publishing), won the David Booth Children’s and Youth Poetry Award ($3,500)

 

PICTURE BOOKS: SUMMER 2022

The fourteen picture books featured in this posting came my way this summer. A great celebration of art and text with titles that vary in theme (gender identity, dream worlds, war time, bears and pizza!)

 

SHOUT OUT

 
 
THERE ONCE IS A QUEEN

by Michael Morpurgo; illus. Michael Foreman

This book, by two British  children’s literature masters ,Michael Morpurgro (author ) and Michael Foreman (llustrator) to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee.  This treasured book is a celebration of Britain’s longest reigning monarch and beloved world figure. With her passing September 8, 2022, This is A Queen further serves as a tribute to the history and monumental life of a monarch devoted to crown, country and family.  This is an exquisite keepsake for past, present and future generations, young and old. 

There once is a Queen ever constant to her people…”

ALL THE COLORS OF LIFE by Lisa Aisato

A richly illustrated collection of wondrous images by one of Norway’s celebrated illustrators. Simple text accompanies lively, atmospheric and cartoon-like characters in rather dramatic full-page pictures that inspire puzzlements and story-making. 

Remember being curious?
And how we discovered new worlds…

AND TANGO MAKES THREE by  Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell; illus. Henry Cole

An important true story about two penguins in Central Park who made history because they were boy penguins who did everything together, fell in love, and made a home where they slept together.  This version is accompanied by a compact disc with the story narrated by Neil Patrick Harris. Written in 2005, And Tango Makes Three is a warm story of same sex relationships, which has been challenged and has been on the top ten list of banned literature in some schools and libraries, since it was deemed inappropriate for children.  In the book, You Can’t Say That, Justin Richardson tells interviewer Leonard Marcus’ “Abstinence-only education, for example, is the only form of education I can think of that is based on the premise that withholding knowledge is what’s helpful for a child. It obviously makes no sense. But that’s the fear.” (page 158)  And Tango Makes Three is a story about family and a story about trying to get something you want – and then getting it.

Tango was the very first penguin in the zoo to have two daddies. 

BEAR HAS A BELLY by Jane Whittingham

A great picture book for toddlers with crisp, colourful photographs featuring children and animals in a recognition and celebration of body parts. The simple four line rhymes and repetitive syntax adds to the appeal of this book. Also by the author: Animals on the Move. 

Fox has a nose
A black , shiny nose.
Fox has a nose.
I do too!

DINOS DRIVING by Lynn Leitch; illus. Scot Ritchie

Kids who love cars + Kids who love dinosaurs will enjoy this book where each dinosaur (Tricertops, Diplodocus, Carnotaurus) in this book drives a different vehicle (e.g., limousine, motorcycle, bus).

Velocirapator drives a mini car.
Iguanodon drives electric.

GOODNIGHT RACISM by Ibram X. Kendi; Cbabi Bayoc

Ibram X. Kendi, author of bestselling book, Antiracist Baby has written a bedtime book for children heading off to sleep, and dreams and the watching moon.  There is a message of justice and antiracism in an imagined world where we can say Good night to injustice, inequality, hate and hurt. 

Dream, my child; create my child.

A new world – a new future – awaits. 

HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIES by Leslea Newman; illus. Laura Cornell

This iconic picture book was first published in 1989 (originally  illustrated b Diana Souza) and was one of the first (the first?) to introduce Heather, who is the only girl in her class who doesn’t have a daddy, but has two mommies. This picture book was one of the most frequently challenged books of the 1990’s. In the book You Can’t Say That! Newman was interviewed by Leonard Marcus shares her view about censorship: “I am sorry that any child has to grow up knowing that for no reason on earth their family is looked down upon as worthy of scorn or as immoral. It makes me sad and furious and determined to write more books about LGBTQ families, despite some people wishing I would not do so? (page 102)

Each family is special. The most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love each other.

SHOUT OUT

A MODERN PARENTS GUIDE TO NURSERY RHYMES by Jennifer Griffin

This is not ‘officially’ a picture book but I purchased this little collection of nursery rhymes because it helps to remind parents and teachers about the importance of introducing young people to poetry. I one read a piece of research that suggested that if children had 8 rhymes learned in their head at a young age, it can help lead to literary success. I believe it. The subtitle of this book is “Because its two o’clock in the morning and you can’t remember ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’. This collection of over 70 classic rhymes (some translated into French and Spanish) is a wonderful collection, accompanied with tidbits of information and reading tips and spot illustrations)  reminding us of  verses, finger rhymes, songs that you might have learned from Mother Goose and will  you to others you might not be familiar These poems are worth sharing OUT LOUD one on one or with groups of kiddies. A gem!

If all the raindrops were lemon drops and gumdrops

Oh what a rain that would be!

IF YOU DREAM IT YOU CAN DO IT! Colleen Nelson & Kathie MacIsaac;iIllus. Scott Ritchie (nonfiction)

How 25 inspiring individuals found their dream jobs (e.g., Wedad Amiri; clothing designer / David A. Robertson, author / Ismail Ferdous documentary photographer / Dr. Raphael Malbrue, veterinarian/ Stephanie Harvey, gaming expert).

Some people discover their job by accident. For others, the job is a goal they are determined to achieve.

 SHOUT OUT

PIZZA: A Slice of History by Greg Pizzoli

A terrific non-fiction picture book that celebrates the delight of eating pizza of any kind. The possibilities abound for integrative activities (art, math, research) as readers learn about the history of Pizza (was it the Greeks? the Persians? the Italians?) and Raffaele Esposito who made ‘legendary pies’ for all.  This is a yummy yummy book? Grazie a mille, Mr. Pizzoli.

All over the world people love pizza.

But where did it start? 

When did it happen?

Who made the first pizza?

ROOM IN YOUR HEART by Hunzang Choden; illus.Pema Tshering

A dear friend gave me two books that she purchased in Buhtan. A little old woman lives in a little house in the mountains. She is alone except for a cat, a dog and a hen.  One by one, strangers come to visit (A monk, a courtier, a woman, two men and a donkey and each time, the woman welcomes her guest, squeezing them into the small space and providing them with nourishment. A lovely tale of generosity of spirit. Also by the author: Aunty Mouse. 

There will always be room in your home,

as long as there is room in your heart.


THE SUITCASE by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

A beautiful allegory of the immigrant experience that tells the story of a weary stranger who is met with questions from animal citizens who want to learn about the newcomer’s story – especially what is hidden in that suitcase.  In the end, a story about acceptance and kindness. This is a book that is worth digging deeper to what may seem like simple storytelling. Wonderful!

A strange animal arrived one day,
looking dusty, tired, sad and frightened.
He was pulling a big suitcase.

WHILE YOU SLEEP by Jennifer Murano; illus. Miki Sato

In lyrical, soothing couplets, author Jennifer Murano offers young children  a comforting bedtime book to send them off to dreamland while the natural world prepares for a new day. Miki Satos colourful textured collage art is both simple and rich – and that’s a good thing. 

Clouds are stuffed, sewn and mended,

Paints for flowers and feathers blended.

 

SHOUT OUT

PLEASE WRITE SOON by Michael Rosen and Michael Foreman

A young boy named Bernie, living in London, exchanges letters with his cousin Bernie, a teenager living in Poland. Solly is evacuated and adjusts to life in English countryside. Bernie, is fleeing from the danger Jews faced in Warsaw and is sent to labour camp in Russia. The book is presented as an exchange of letters exchanges information, observations and worries about World War II. Readers learn of historical events such as “Anders’ Army”, the battle of Monte Cassino and the of concentration camps.  In this moving picture, inspired by Michael Rosen’s family history, questions about the meaning of war and concerns for survival, freedom and hope are given a heartfelt portrait through epistolary narratives. Michael Rosens’ evocative black and white illustrations (often accented with red) are, as always, remarkable. A beautiful picture book creation. 

I remember your mum say, People have to have hope. If we don’t have hope, we have nothing.