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 Titles Dr. Larry Read in December

Many of the Middle Years novels I choose to recently read are framed by understanding of social justice, diversity and equity issues. The 12 titles listed below provide readers with insights into differences, economic, socially and culturally. Each book is about young people finding a place of belonging.


ALINA IN A PINCH by Shenaaz Nanji (Racism)

Alina has moved to a new school and is teased because of the lunches she brings.  When Alina’s parents are forced to travel to Africa, her grandmother comes to take care of her and the two enjoy cooking Afro-Indian meals together. From her Nani, Alina learns that ‘we are all the same, yet different: ‘different colored balloons flying under one sky… Each of us has hopes, fears., and dreams. We all want to be love and to be accepted.” Alina is determined to find the cruel bully culprit who makes fun of her. She is also determined to audition for the Junior Chef competition by creating a healthy treat. This chapter book will guide readers into diversity and equity and acceptance… and not just because of the food we eat. 

THE CASE OF THE BURGLED BUNDLE by Michael Hutchinson (Indigenous)

This is the third book in the Mighty Muskrats Mystery Series by Cree author, Michael Hutchinson. A bundle ceremony is an Indigenous ritual in which the oral histories and philosophy of a nation are passed down through generations. “It is the experience that is the message”. In this novel, the author once again creates the fictional Windy Lake First Nation. The National Assembly of Cree Peoples has gathered together for a four-day-long ceremony and when the treaty bundle is stolen, the Might Muskrats, cousins Chickadee, Atim, Otter, and Sam set out to find the culprit(s). Hutchinson not only gives readers with an intriguing whodunnit, but provides rich detail and information of the Cree nation. 

FIREFLY by Philippa Dowding (Homelessness)

When Firefly’s drug-loving, baseball-bat-wielding mother has been taking to rehab, the young teenager is sent to her Aunt Gayle’s house which is certainly a better home than the park she’s been forced to live in. Aunt Gayle’s shop with seven million costumes adds a variety and colour to Firefly’s life as she strives to cope with a new school, a new home, and some new friends.   Firefly is a great character and one that readers will absolutely root for – and learn about resilience from. Winner of the 2021 Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature.

GANGSTA GRANNY STRIKES AGAIN by David Walliams, illustrated by Tony Ross 

At least once a year, a new title by David Walliams comes my way and I’m always quite pleased to add another hard-back edition to my DW bookshelf.  As always there’s a cast of wild characters: Mum, a ballroom-dancing superfan; Flavio Flavioli, heart-throb star of Strictly Stars Dancing; Mr, Parker, a nosy neighbour; Edna, resident of an old folk’s home who enjoys a good game of Scrabble and The Queen (yes, that Queen). There’s also  a wild plot (the theft of King Tut’s mask,  The Crown Jewels, The World Cup) and as always hilarious, outrageous,  inventive writing – and art. This book is the very first sequel from the world-famous author, a great fun-filled companion to Gangsta Granny. Will there be forthcoming companions to Demon Dentist, Awful Auntie, Billionaire Boy?

THE GENIUS UNDER THE TABLE: Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain; written and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin  (Anitsemitism)

An illustrated memoir of the author’s live in the Soviet Union. The story takes place in Leningrad in the 1970’s and Yevgeny lives with his family in one room of a communal apartment surrounded by a mixed-bag of neighbours Little Yevgeny sleeps under the dining table and is kept company with the one family pencil that belongs to his father. Each night the boy steals the pencil, covering the underside of the table with secret drawings. Although we don’t get to see beneath the table, Yelchin presents drawings that bring characters life with humour. The family is under the oppressive situation as Jews under Communism (the father is obsessed with Russian poetry; the mother is a fan of Mikhail Baryshnikov, brother Victor is a star figure skater and young Yevegny struggles to survive amongst  political demands bu escaping through his art and thriving and surviving ‘under the table.’ A very funny and poignant story.  I enjoyed this book a lot, but  I am not sure what young people would make of a childhood story in Cold War Russia, of the defection of a Russian ballet dancer and Jews who were considered to be enemies of the people. 

A KIND OF SPARK by Elle NcNicoll (Autism)

Addie is autistic. She is not a girl with autism – she is autistic (as is one of her older sisters). When Addie learns about he witch trials that took place in her hometown in Scotland, she is determined to find out the truThis is a remarkable story of family and identity and resilience centred on a girl who know exactly who she is and is able to rise above all those who think that she is oddly different.th of who these ‘witches’ really were and even more convinced that the town needs to establish a memorial for these ‘outsiders’.  This book was voted the 2021 Waterstone’s the children’s book of the year. It is deserved of the recognition. 

THE PANTS PROJECT by Cat Clarke (Homophobia / Transgender Issues)

Liv (Olivia) has entered a new school and is upset with the school uniform rule that states that girls must wear pants. This is a big problem for Liv because even though he was born a girl, he was definitely a boy. With the help a new-found friend he is on a mission to challenge the dress code and change the mind of the school administration – and the mean girls who bully her. Liv is likeable Trans hero and Cat Clarke has presented an engaging novel that examines fickle friendships, faithful families and  LGBTQ issues.

RED WOLF by Jennifer Dance (Indigenous / Residential Schools)

At a very young age, Red Wolf is forced to attend a residential school far from the life he knows.  The author paints a stark and unsettling/ brutal portrait of life for Indigenous children taken away from their families under the Indian Act of 1876. The fear alienation and powerlessness of thousands of First Nation children. The story is balanced by the narrative of Crooked Ear, a wolf being forced from the land who throughout the story helps Red Wolf to survive. The author has a passion for equality and justice and as a non-native has dedicated her writing and research to presents a vivid and informative portrait of Anishnaabe, language, beliefs and culture. Other titles by the author: Paint; Hawk.

ROOM TO DREAM by Kelly Yang (Chinese family; Big business, Friendships)

This is the third book in a trilogy by Asian American author Kelly Yang. Mia Tan is  wise, feisty character who has proved herself to be a determined young girl growing up in California in the 1990’s. Mia’s adventures are drawn from the author’s personal experiences of her family’s immigration to America where they acquired The Calivista Motel in Anahiem and where Mia took charge sitting at the Front Desk. In Three Keys, Mia and her friends fight for immigration rights when they learn that In this new book, Mia and her family take a vacation to Beijing, China where she reunites with her cousins and grandparents and witnesses big changes that the country is going home. Big changes are also happening in Anaheim California where a conglomerate wants to take over The Calivista and offers big money to turn the modest motel into a boutique hotel. Mia isn’t going to stand for that and once again puts up a strong fight to do what she feels is right. Room To Dream is also a story of friendships and loyalty. Mia’s best friend, Lupe is taken classes at the high school and Jason is determined to win the cooking championship for young people.  As a young tweenager, Mia is also learning about infatuation (and a first kiss). A strong feature of this novel is the fact that Mia has been chosen to write a weekly column, Diary of a Young American Girl,  for the China Kids Gazette  about life as a middle school student. These columns (based on the author’s own experiences) become very popular in China. In the novel, these publications are  being kept a secret from Mia’s California friends which causes more problems for Mia. Throughout the book, we get to read Mia’s columns, helping gain insights into Mia’s life, the turbulence of being a teenager and the importance finding a room to dream.  Kelly Yang is a terrific author. This is a terrific book. 

STUNTBOY: IN THE MEANTIME by Jason Reynolds; drawings by Raul the Third (Social Class; Bullying)

Any newly released book by Jason Reynolds puts a smile on my face. This book takes Reynolds into a somewhat different direction with a wildly episodic, funny, fantasy and reality adventure. In order to deal with his FRETS (anxieties/ ang-ZY-uh-tee), Portico Reeves invents himself into a Stuntboy superhero (at least in his own head) where he can help conquer bad things from happening to those in his neighbourhood. But even a superhero doesn’t have the power to solve the impending separation of mother and father and the arguments (ARGH -uments) they have about dividing property.  Meet a cast of wild characters who live in an apartment building called Skylight Gardens “where behind every door is a new TV show”. A best friend named  Zola, a bully villain named Herbert Singletary the Worst, a cat named “A New Name Every Day”, graphic episodes of a television series named “Super Space Warriors”, commercial breaks (e.g., How To Tell Your Cat is Scared)  add to the mix of Stuntboy’s quest to save himself (and others). The dynamo art work by Raul the Third are splashed throughout both in black and white (sometimes blue) drawings as well as colourful graphic art. This is a hybrid of text and illustration sure to enthral middle-age readers when reading this book (and companion titles to come). 

WHEN FISHES FLEW: The Story of Elena’s War by Michael Morpurgo, illus. George Butler (Refugee experience)

When she finishes high school, Nandi, travels from her home in Australia to Ithaca to learn about her heritage. Most of all she wants to learn the true story of her great aunt Elena, her marriage and how she became an unsung hero of WW II. When Nandi arrives on the island she learns that her beloved aunt has disappeared and Nandi becomes even more determined to learn about who her aunt truly is and why she’s being considered a hero by all the citizens of Ithaca. It is through the friendship of an unusual flying fish that Nandi learns the truth Greek history of her Aunt Elena’s heroism.  Morpurgo is forever a master storyteller and this newest title stands brightly on this author’s bookshelf. 

WHEN THE SKY FALLS by Phil Earle (War; Animal Rights)

The setting is 1941, WWII, Britain. The skies are filled with bombers and there is destruction everywhere. Joseph an angry boy sent to live with Mrs. F. a somewhat cantankerous woman who doesn’t seem to be too fond of children.  Amidst the chaos, Mrs. F. is responsible for the upkeep of the zoo and the care of any remaining animals, especially, Adonis, he mighty silverback gorilla. Over time, each character digs into the truths of their past, each story filled with sorrow and grief. Over time, bonds between the two troubled characters deepen. The sites, smells and sounds of a war-torn city are starkly -and cinematically portrayed.  The climax of the story is as harrowing as any can be found in a novel for young people.  A gripping, compassionate read.  


Items, narrowed down to five, are listed alphabetically, by title.


A KID IS A KID IS A KID by Sara O’Leary; illus. Qin Leng
MILO IMAGINES THE WORLD by Matt de la Pena; Illus Christian Robinson
OUR LITTLE KITCHEN by Jillian Tamaki

UNSPEAKABLE: The Tulsa Race Massacre  Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. Floyd Cooper
WE ALL PLAY by Julie Flett


BURYING THE MOON by Andree Poulin; illus, Sonali Zohra
LINKED by Gordon Korman


COUNT ME IN: 15 stories about immigration and finding home by Adi Alsaid (ed.0

EVERYTHING SAD IS UNTRUE (A True Story) by Daniel Nayeri
GONE TO THE WOODS: Surviving a Lost Childhood (biography) Gary Paulsen



KLARA AND THE SUN by Kazuo Ishiguro
OH, WILLIAM by Elizabeth Strout
*SHUGGIE BAINE by Douglas Stuart


IS THIS ANYTHING? by Jerry Seinfeld

TINY LOVE STORIES: True tales of love in 100 words or less by Daniel Jones & Miya Lee (eds.)
UNSTOPPABLE (biography of Siggi B. Wilzig) by Joshua M. Greene




DANA H. (New York)
INTO THE WOODS (Talk is Free Theatre)
WEST MOON (Rising Tide Theatre, Newfoundland)

TV (series)

SHTISEL (season 3)

CD’s (yes, CD’s)

KEITH JARETT / The Melody At Night, With You

DIANE KRALL / This Dream of Y0u

STING / Duets

BILLY TIPTON / Jazz 1955



CONSTELLATIONS (Donmar Streaming) with Omari Douglas & Russell Tovey


FOLLIES (Concert / Koerner Hall)


FALL: Titles for GROWN-UPS

Quite a range in these 10 books that includes two award-winners, one poetry collection, one script, and two by favourite authors (John Boyne, Elizabeth Strout). 

ALEC by William Di Canzio

The author re-imagines the E.M Forester classic book Maurice, and provides new narratives for Maurice and Alec, iconic gay lovers who fell in love with determination, courage and passion. Di Canzio invents a past for the gamekeeper (Alec) and the upper- class Maurice Hall and follows their lives through their courtship, front lines of battle and family issues. This book could be read as a stand alone (I’m curious to re-read the Forster novel) but oh-what a clever feat to bring these iconic queer characters back to life for a now generation.


Alan Cumming claimed in the New York Times that this was slim novel was one of his all-time favourite reads and so I decided to acquire copy of this 1931 title about a forlorn woman seeking adventure (and love) in interwar Paris and London.  Julia Martin is a sad sad soul who struggles to pay the rent, maintain a charming image, and depend on the kindness of strangers, after leaving Mr. Mackenzie.  This desperate character didn’t much appeal to me (Sorry, Mr. C) but it did keep me company on an overnight plane ride to London. 

CONTROLLED DAMAGE by Andrea Scott (script)

This play explores the life of Canadian icon Viola Desmond. The incident in a Nova Scotia movie theatre, where Viola was removed from the first floor seat, starts a ripple effect of racism, social justice, and civil rights.  First performed in Halifax, 2020, the play will have a production  performed  Grand Theatre in London Ontario in 2022. (and will likely be produced on Canadian stages in future years).


Boyne is a favourite author of mine and I always look forward to a new release. I loved The Echo Chamber, but I realize that ot everyone will because the characters are not particularly likeable. This is a terrifically sharp satire on the age of social media and political correctness that we’re living in. I found the book to be very funny (often laugh-out-loud funny),  farcical (if you like that sort of thing) and I was totally intrigued with the life (in five days) of the unlikeable characters of the Cleverley family: George a television host, Beverley, a novelist, Nelson, a frustrated teacher, Elizabeth, addicted to twitter, and Achilles, a scam artist.  And an aged tortoise.  Be prepared to delve into a world of the privileged, Racism, Transphobia, lepers, a phantom pregnancy, a ghost writer, blackmail, speed dating, a Ukranian stud, cancel culture, gender bending, an aged tortoise who’s addicted to After Eight chocolates, and a big batch of lies. A great, fun read!

THE FOUR QUARTETS by T.S. Eliot (poetry)

I was inspired to read this book because I had booked a ticket to see a performance of the poems by Ralph Fiennes in London. Can’t pretend to have understand these spiritual, philosophical of the four linked works.  Something about the passing of time. Something about God. Something about nature. Was ok with the opening lines, “Time present and time past /are both present in time future/ And time future contained in time past” but got lost from page 6 onwards “Garlic and sapphires in the mud/Clot the bedded axle-tree” but I guess I can’t argue with the brilliance of T.S. Eliot. I rather preferred Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. I was thrilled to have seen Mr. Fiennes astonishing dramatization of The Four Quartets. Perhaps a re-read (and another re-read of the book might help. Perhaps. 

THE LISTENERS by Jordan Tannahill

I am fond of Jordan Tannahill’s work as a playwright and was pleased to dig into his new novel, short listed for a Giller prize. A middle-aged woman named Claire hears THE HUM, an incessant sound, that causes her mental and physical distress. Who else hears The Hum? How can she convince others (husband, daughter) that this is really happening? Will The Hum go away? What causes The Hum? When Claire, a high school English teacher discovers that one of her students is haunted by the same sound the plot thickens. Eventually Claire and Kyle fall into a group of neighbours who meet regularly for support, help and inquiry.  There is a thriller quality to this book, framed by a Science Fiction premise, but in the end it is a story of community, connecting, relationships and mental health.  A fine writer you are, Mr. Tannahill.  What a mind!


OH WILLIAM by Elizabeth Strout.

We’ve met Lucy Barton previous titles by this special author (My Name is Lucy Barton; and Anything is Possible (short stories) and in this new novel, Lucy, an author, meets up with her ex-husband, William, and joins him on an adventure to uncover a family secret he just discovered. That summarizes the plot, but oh, how the author digs into emotions through a network of anecdotes drawn from memories of Lucy’s life as a young girl living in poverty, as a wife, mother, and widow. The author has conversations with her readers but moreover has therapy-like conversations with herself as she tries to make sense of the bonds that hold people together, the influence of the past on the present,  the things we know about ourselves, the things we are trying to figure out and the fact that ‘”we are all mythologies, mysterious. We are all mysteries”. Oh, Elizabeth, I so love your writing.  This is absolutely one of my favourite reads of 2021. 


Make no mistake… this book is not targeted to the usual reader audience of 9 to 11 year olds who are enthralled with the author’s  Series of Unfortunate Events. I noticed this title in the children’s section of a local book store and the title Poison for Breakfast (and the author) enticed. The jacket blurb reads This book is “different from other books Mr. Snicket has written. It could be said to be a book of philosophy, something almost no one likes, but it is also a mystery, and many people claim to like those”. In the opening chapter the protagonist (the author) is enjoying his breakfast but then notices a note slipped under his door “You had poison for breakfast’. And thus begins a journey to uncover the mystery and the author sets out find some answers to the note – and to the meaning of life (and death). The word ‘bewildered’ appears on many pages and this is a book of bewilderment, rambling, literary references (I often returned to the notes  section at the end of the book) – and egg recipes. I noticed in tiny print that the book was printed by Penguin Teen Canada.  Grownups who have been inspired by Lemony Snicket may now want to meet up again with this author of adventures and bewilderment. 

THE PROMISE by Damon Galgut

Three funerals. Three decades. Three siblings. One family. One country. Told in 4 sections. Remarkable writing, with often out-of-synch narrative which tested my inference skills. Thought 269 pages, it too me somewhat longer to read than it should have but I hung in there and sometimes cared about the feckless older brother, the unhappy middle sister and the off-on-her own younger sister. The promise made to the  Swart’s family’s black maid Salome that she will be given property rights due to her, hangs over, but doesn’t seem to predominate, as the title might suggest. The politics of a changing South Africa hangs over the story, like the backdrop of a play, always there, sometimes deserved of attention. Winner of The Booker Prize 2021,


A powerful and vivid story of the refugee experience. The narrative is told in alternating chapters, alternating  time periods: Before (describing the experiences of migrant passengers on an ill-equipped boat) and After (the rescue  of a Syrian boy by a teenager)  The migration story is centred on Amir who is washed up on the shore of a small island. Omar El Akkad paints a vivid (and grim) portrait of those forced to flee and describes specific and dire circumstances they face aboard a vessel (Before). The relationship between Vanna and Amir,  complete strangers, adds a suspense to the narrative as Vanna attempts to save Amir from being caught (After).   Winner of the Giller Prize, 2022.  

PICTURE BOOKS: December 2021 / Social Justice Diversity and Equity

I am very fond of each and every picture book listed in this posting. Diverse books by diverse authors about diverse young people who make a difference.



Young Sami, who just arrived from Syria, isn’t quite ready to talk about his past until he is called upon to use his experiences taking care of birds.

“Does the new kid have stories from far away too?…Does he like churros, birds, and snow forts too?”

BORN ON THE WATER: THE 1619 Project by Nicole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson, illus. Nikkolas Smith

Grandma gathers the whole family together to learn about 1619, the time their Black ancestors were stolen and brought to America by European enslavers. Told in lyrical poetry. 

“They knew how to mix the old with the new,/ how even an ancient people always had more to learn.”

CHANGE SINGS by Amanda Gorman; illus. Loren Long

An inspirational poem by Presidential inaugural poet and activist,  Amanda Gorman

“I can hear change humming/ In its loudest, proudest song. I don’t fear change coming, And so I sing along.

G MY NAME IS GIRL by Dawn Masi

Girls from 26 countries from Argentina to Zambia are delightfully and thoughtfully celebrated in this A-to-Z tribute to global girlhood. 

“O my name is ORIT, and my teacher’s name is OMEMA. We come from OMAN and we are OUTSPOKEN.”

THE LONGEST STORM by Dan Yaccarino

A strange storm forces a family to stay inside and find a way for each member of the family to connect with one another, 

“Being home together like that all the time, felt strange. But soon it went from strange to bad, to worse.”

MY SKIN by Laura Henry-Allain Mbe; illus. Onyinye Iwu

A fine and clear introduction to race, racism and empowerment.

“if someone is racist to you, it is not your fault.”

RED AND GREEN AND BLUE AND WHITE by Lee Wind; illus. Paul O’ Zelinisky

Isaac’s family is Jewish and Teresa’s family is Christian. Both children look forward to the holiday season and have fun preparing for festivities until one night, someone smashes the window in Isaac’s house.

“Blue and white/ Menorah light/ From two homes tonight!”

A SKY-BLUE BENCH BY Bahram Rahman; illus. Peggy Collins

A young girl in Afghanistan is worried about sitting all day on the hard floor of her classroom with her new prosthetic leg. 

“It was right before dawn when a brave new idea came into her mind. ‘I’ll build mysefl a bench. surely that will help.”

THE SORRY LIFE OF TIMOTHY SHMOE by Stephanie Simpson McLellan; illus. Zoe Si

Timothy always causes trouble for everyone around him and his father has his son write letters of apology which Timothy does grudgingly. A story of mischief, anger and acceptance told mostly in letter format.

“Dear Great-Nanny Gough,

I’m sorry you got trapped in the corner when Mom went to buy milk. In my defences, no one told me our house is a little crooked.”

SOMETHING GOOD by Marcy Campbell; illus. Corinna Luyken

A school custodian finds something bad written on the bathroom wall . Who would do that? Why?

“We missed the days before the bad-something appeared, because everything was different now. Some of us felt worried or confused or sad or angry. No one felt nothing.” 

THE SOUR CHERRY TREE by Naeem Hrab; illus. Nahid Kazemi

A touching story about loss and remembrance of a beloved grandfather who spoke Farsi loudly and English quietly. 

“My baba bozorg forgot to wake up yesterday. He lived alone, so no one was there to bite him. I really wish I’d been there.”

WATERCRESS by Andrea Wang; illus Jason Chin

The family of a young girl stops alongside the road to pick watercress which inspires a tender memory story of life in China, inspired by the author’s story.

“I look from my uncle’s hollow face to the watercress on the table and I am ashamed of being ashamed of my family.”

WHEN WE SAY BLACK LIVES MATTER written and illustrated by Maxine Beneba Clarke.

 A black child’s parents explain why Black Lives Matter. 

“Darling, when we sing that Black Lives Matter, and we’re dancing through the streets, we’re saying: fear will not destroy our joy, defiance in our feet.”

FALL FICTION: Ages 10-14

Each title listed in this posting is so different from the one beside it, but the theme of ACCEPTANCE  and  MAKING A DIFFERENCE weaves these 10 novels together. 


THE BEATRYCE PROPHECY by Kate DiCamillo; illus. Sophie Blackall

I only need to see Kate DiCamillo’s name on a book cover to know that I’m in for a great read. I’m so fond of her books (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Raymie Nightingale, The Tale of Desperaux, Flora and Ulysses) that I looked forward – and enjoyed reading this new novel, where a wise and headstrong goat has to look out for herself and the wounded child in her care. Beatryce is a young girl hunted by the prophecy of a king that who feels threatened by being unseated by her. A cast of characters, (A timid monk, an orphan boy, a bearded stranger, a mermaid) a part of the tale of discovery, tragedy and love. “Love here is built on the deceptively simple belief that other beings in the world are fully our equals, sharing the same inherent worth, with as much right to life and joy, – with sorrow a certain outcome for us all.” (Naomi Novik, New York Times, review, Sept 19, 2021). I agree with the  Novik’s review when she says that Beatryce, ‘both the character and the book, are easy to love’. As is the author, Kate DiCamillo. 

BORDERS by Thomas King; illus. Natasha Donovan (graphic)

This book presents Thomas King’s short story “Borders” (1993) as a graphic novel. When his older sister moves from Alberta to Salt Lake City, a boy and his mother decide to visit her. The border guards asks a simple question: Are you Canadian or American and the mother answers “Blackfoot”. After being detained in both border patrols, the mother refuses to change her answer. This is a story powerfully extols the truth of identity and belonging from an Indigenous perspective.

BORN BEHIND BARS by Padma Venkatrama

Since the day he was born, Kabir has been living in an Indian jail living with his mother who is serving time for a crime (she didn’t commit). When the nine-year-old boy  is told that he is too old to stay in jail, he is released –  without is mother.  Left.to fend for himself on the streets of a crowded city in India, Kabir learns about the dangers of the world that doesn’t value low-caste kids.  Luckily, he befriends, Rani, ( Roma) another street kid who gives Kabir advice and courage to make the best of life. More than anything, Kabir seeks being reunited with family and won’t give up in attempting to get his mother released from jail. The author of The Bridge Home has written another emotional ,hopeful novel about survival, poverty and resilience, about families lost and families found. 


BURYING THE MOON by Andree Poulin; illus. Sonali Zohra

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” ~ Buddha

Narrative? Nonfiction? Poetry? This wonderful free-verse novel is a beautiful – and powerful – work of art both verbally and visually. The story is set in Rural India and events are seen through the eyes of pre-puberty Latika who wants to bury the light of the moon that shines brightly on the field of Shame where women have to ‘do their business’. With no toilets in the village, many girls are taken out of school once they reach puberty. When a government representative visits her village, she bravely meets up with him, hoping to arouse compassion and change for girls. Poulin, through a series of titled poems, shines a light on the lack of access sanitation facilities that affects over 4 billion people worldwide (one in five schools in the world don’t have toilets). I certainly wasn’t aware that World Toilet Day Takes place every year on November 19th to raise awareness of this significant public health issue.  Thank you Ms Poulin for this important , heartfelt story. Thank you Sonali Zohra for your lively spot-art and full-page illustrations that convey a sense of place, people and events in one small Indian community. This is certain to be at the top of list of favourite children’s literature reads for 2021.

FRANKIE AND BUG by Gayle Forman

This is an engaging story about a boy/girl friendship. Correction and Spoiler alert…Frankie  is questioning his gender identity and though born a female now identifies himself as a boy, information that we learn about halfway into the book. Frankie was sent to Venice California to live with his uncle for the summer and he connects with 10 year old Bug who only wants to spend time at the beach. There are several subplots and adventures that emerge as the book unfolds: Bug’s brother is caught up in participating in physical exercise at Muscle Beach, the two protagonists are convinced they can catch the Midnight Marauder a criminal on the loose in the LA area; itis the time of AIDS and Uncle Phil is the victim of Gay bashing;  when Aunt Teri visits we learn that she is homophobic: Bug comes eventually comes to learn about her Salvadoran heritage and the death of her father. The setting is Venice California and the author offers a cast of colourful characters (Skinheads, a Hungarian refugee, a hermit, a cross-dresser) who add character to life in and around the beach. Friends, family, acceptance, tolerance are themes woven into this appealing coming-of-age story. 


When life becomes unsafe for them in Nigeria, nine-year-old Konisola and her mother move to Canada, in search for refuge. When the mother is diagnosed with cancer, the two become separated.  Young Konisolo is a stranger in a strange land, with no family, no friends, but it is the compassion of a remarkable Canadian nurse who provides some comfort, some relief and some hope for a better future. This book is based on a true story, that is sure to  touching readers hearts and cheer on mother and daughter on as they deal with medical procedures,  refugee procedures and  adoption procedures. 

ONCE UPON A CAMEL by Kathi Appelt

Imagine a novel with an aged female camel as a protagonist. Zada seems to be the last of the camels wandering through the desert in Texas. Low and behold, two tiny kestrels nest atop Zada’s head, hoping to be reunited with their missing parents were taken away by a huge dust storm, the size of a mountain. ? How will Zada keep these two birds protected? Will the kestrel family be reunited. How will Zada help pass the time until Beulah and Wims meet up again with Pard and Perlita?  But Zada, who has lived and survived over 60 years has many stories to tell and tell them she does: Stories of camel races for the Pash of Smyrna, of crossing the ocean, of leading army missions with her camel friends, of outsmarting a mountain lion of giving camel rides.Aplet alternates narratives from the year 1910 and 60 years earlier and provides readers with encyclopedic information about the life of a camel and kestrels.  What a writer! What a storyteller! From the Author’s notes: “We are, all of us, story beast made to tell stories, built for them. Like the little kestrels, we need our stories to create room for laughter and sadness, joy and sorrow, to help us make sense of the world, even a world that feels crazy and full of dust.”

PIECE BY PIECE: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab by Priya Huk (graphic novel) (11+)

Nisran, a Bangladeshi American girl, living in Oregon has experienced a hate crime for wearing a headscarf for an eighth grade  school cultural project. The experience has traumatized the young teenager. However, when she enters high school she is determined to wear a hijab to high school, even though her family disapproves. Struggling to fit in, Nisran continues to be a target, but she is resolved to discover more about Islam, her family’s relationship with it, and the reasons they left Bangladesh. The author creates some vivid and sometimes stark images through dynamic (and sometimes dark) panels. Many graphic novels invite readers to infer what has happened between panels. I felt that the addition of narrative captions might have helped to make the storytelling clearer. Though the story is set in 2002, the depiction of Islamophobia resonates today and the account of a young teenager growing up, struggling finding a place of belonging, questioning her identity and staying true to her convictions is a universal.  A short guide to Bangladesh culture is provided as an afterword to the book. 

PONY by R.J. Palacio

This novel set in the mid 1800’s is written by the author of the marvel book Wonder, but the story is a far cry (almost) from the Auggie Pulman’s world. A good author is still a good author and Palaccio’s newest book presents twelve-year-old Silas, a motherless boy,  reveal her fine storytelling skills and in this case, extensive research capacities. In the book’s opening, three horseman come to take Silas’s father, a bootmaker and photographer with hopes that he will help them with their criminal counterfeiting scheme. The bulk of the book, takes Silas, his companion Mittenwool (who happens to be a ghost) and Pony into the woods on a dangerous journey to reunite with his father. in the end, (no spoiler alert), this is a story about loyalty and love and, like Wonder, is a story where kindness prevails. The adventures when finding and capturing the villains is cinematic. The final part of this book is full of heart as Silas leans more about his past. Ghosts, villains, a violin, daguerotypes,  sheriff,  a golden treasure , and a devoted Pony named Pony assemble to make this a compelling read. 

WHAT LANE? by Torrey Maldonado

Stephen’s father is Black. Stephen’s mother is white.  Stephen has a group of Black friends. Stephen has a group of white friends. As a mixed kid, he feels like he needs to follow different rules – lanes – to find a place a belonging. Part of Stephen’s coming of age is learning about living alongside those who have racist attitudes. (He is accused of steeling a cookie in a supermarket while his white friend is ignored for the same act). In Chapter One of my book Teaching Tough Topics, I provide some strategies and resources to build understanding of  race and diverse cultures.  Was surprised (very pleased) to read the following in the Maldonado’s Acknowledgements: “Tough topics can be tough. Sometime it’s too tough to connect “eye to eye”. This book is for everyone who wants to try – even if it means connecting “shoulder to shoulder” as we walk with young people into better tomorrows.”


(announced on Friday October 29th):

  • The Barnabus Project, written and illustrated by Terry Fan, Eric Fan and Devin Fan (Tundra Books), won the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award ($50,000)
  • Our Little Kitchen, written and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki (Groundwood Books), won the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award ($20,000)
  • Powwow: A Celebration Through Song and Dance, written by Karen Pheasant-Neganigwane (Orca Book Publishers), won the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non‐Fiction ($10,000)
  • The Paper Girl of Paris, written by Jordyn Taylor (HarperTeen), won the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People ($5,000)
  • Facing the Sun, written by Janice Lynn Mather (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), won the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award ($5,000)
  • No Vacancy, written by Tziporah Cohen (Groundwood Books), won the Jean Little First-Novel Award ($5,000)


The ten titles presented offered here are varied in theme but are informative and inspiring and serve as sources for rich response in the classroom. ‘Shout Outs’ should go to each and every one of these books and I predict some  of these 2021 titles will be on top ten lists / award lists by year’s end.  (note: Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki has already been deemed an award-winning book (The Marilyn Baillie best picture book prize). A list of New York Times best illustrated picture books is provided at the end of this posting. 


BRIGHT STAR by Yuyi Morales

The art is astonishing. The story is of the migrant experience and the impact of  border barriers is important. The Mexican-American author/illustrator weaves the tale of a fawn making her way through a desert landscape that is both beautiful and dangerous. The frightened animal is urged onward by voices that help the fawn confront her fears and obstacles (“Child you are awake. Breathe in, then breathe out, hermosa creatura, you are alive.”). Eventually, the fawn is replaced by a young girl who stares out at the reader.   From the New York Times review (11/14/2021) “Bright Star does what very few picture books can do: “captivate the child while moving the adult who is reading to her.”  A Spanish version of the book has been published under the title Lucero. 

DEAR EARTH: From your friends in Room 5 by Erin Dealey; illus. Luisa Uribe

Sometimes, when I decided to buy a picture book, i recognize it to be ‘teacher friendly’, inspiring response and modelling writing procedures. The kids in Room 5 write letters to Earth asking what they can do to help save our planet and Earth writes back, each month, offering giving information, and about being caring citizens of the environment.  This book is a useful mentor text for letter writing and can serve inspire writers in classrooms a) to write letters and b) Earth Heroes who take care of the planet. 

I WISH YOU KNEW by Jackie Azua Kramer; illus. Magdalena Mora

There are things we keep inside, that others likely don’t know about us. Sometimes we like to keep these secrets. Sometimes we’d like to share our stories, our feelings but don’t feel comfortable revealing them until we know that we can trust others. In this picture book Estrella’s father and undocumented immigrant is forced to leave his family. behind. Estrella wishes others know how these circumstances affects her at home, at school. The author, with simple poetic text, has presented a story that many readers can connect to perhaps sharing their own “I wish you knew…” thoughts. 


OUR LITTLE KITCHEN by Jillian Tamaki

Winner of the Marilyn Baillie best picture book of the year

When jurors meet to decide on an award-winning book, It’s rather tough choosing the best.  Our Little Kitchen, the story of a mother and son who volunteer in the local soup kitchen, is a gem of book Lively illustrations, recipe instructions,  varied font size enhance the narrative. Tamaki is an illustrator and comics artist and the vibrant graphic power of this picture book comes through in speech bubbles and word display (e..g.,  Peel! Splash!, Squish!, Splash! ) A joyful and inspiring story about food, about community and about giving. Yes, deserved of an award. 


SEA LIONS  IN THE PARKING LOT: Animals on the move in a time of Pandemic by Lenora Todaro; illus. Annika Siems

A collection of twelve fascinating, real-life stories, to educate and inspire readers to help wildlife by fighting habitat loss.  We meet Sika deer ambling around a parkland romping on a subway in Japan; flamboyant flamingos roosting in the wetlands of India;  sea turtles hatching on an abandoned beach in Brazil, mountain gorillas iin Uganda, wild boars in Haifa, and sea lions sheltering in a parking lot in Argentina.  playful and stark one-page illustrations to introduce each story, and staggering double-page spreads to accompany each story add power to this picture book.  An introduction, epilogue and notes on habitates, biomes and wildlife behaviour help to make this a top-notch nonfiction, scientific picture book, helping young people to think about becoming a citizen scientist, helping to combat climate change.  What an artful, informative and entertaining book!  

THIS IS HOW I KNOW: Mii maanda ezhi-gkendmaanh by Brittany Luby; illus Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley

A child and her grandmother explore the natural wonders of each season (wildflowers, bees, blueberries, hibernating bears, forest mushrooms, deer, birds and peepers. This book is presented as a bilingual story-poem written in Anishinaabemowin and English. A lovely tribute to childhood memories and Indigenous Knowledge Keepers. The illustrators vivid colour palette and use of black outline, portray landscapes and animals from fall, winter, spring, and summer. 

UNSPEAKABLE: The Tulsa Race Masacre by Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. Floyd Cooper

On May 31st June 1st, 1921 a mob of armed white attached the thriving African American Community of Greenwood Oklahoma, looting homes, and burning business to the ground. As many as 300 African Americans were killed and in this powerful picture book, recounts what was one of the worst incidents of racial  violence in US history. Weatherford has dedicated herself to documenting events from American history to inform readers of events and figures from African American struggles.  Floyd Cooper has written and illustrated his own books (e.g., Juneteenth for Mazie, Coming Home, Jump)  but has also provided evocative illustrations for  such titles  as The Blacker the Berry (Joyce Carol Thomas), Grandpa’s Face (Eloise Greenfield)  and Frederick Douglas: The Lion Who Wrote History (Walter Dean Myers). Unspeakable was hailed by the New York Times as one of the top ten illustrated books of 2021. It is sure to be recognized on future award lists (Caldecott?). Floyd Cooper died on July 16, 2021. 

A WALK IN THE WOODS by Hudson Talbott

When growing up, the author/illustrator Hudson Talbott found reading to be HARD. A ‘slow’ reader, he eventually came to read at his own pace ‘using familiar words as stepping stones to guide him into a story.’ This autobiographical story tells the tale of a young boy, drawn to drawing stories, who felt alone and lost in a world of words. His walk into the woods of words helped young Talbott to look for words that he know, jump over words he didn’t know, and overcome a fear of reading, a world where curiosity took over, a world where he could could tell a story with pictures, searn for new words and learn to ‘paint with words’. This is a book that honours struggling, reluctant readers and their literacy journeys.


WHAT THE KITE SAW by Anne Laurel Carter; illus. Akin Duzakin

It is war time. Soldiers fill the town and taken away the father and brothers of a young boy. who is left to stay inside his home, while tanks invade the streets.  However, at curfew time, the boy is allowed to visit the neighbourhood park and ply with his friends. One day a breeze, inspires the boy to fly kites, and so he prepares a gold-coloured, star shaped kite to dance and rise above the streets. Soon, other coloured kites rise and float until shot down by gunfire. The boy has a story about everything the kite saw.as it flew over the land. The shadowy, monochromatic art creates a mood for the story. The author notes: “This story was inspired by Palestinian children. It could take placer anywhere children love to fly kites and are threatened by war.”  A powerful  story of contrasts, of bullet sounds, a flying kite, a flying boy! 

THE WORDY BOOK by Julie Paschkis

When writing my book WORD BY WORD, I investigated many picture books that celebrated vocabulary, word collecting, and word power. In this book, artist, Julie Paschkis fills each page with words that delight and words that can be savored for their ‘sound and shape as well as for its meaning. Staggering illustrations where words are hidden within images (e.g., hovering, reverie, majesty, preyed, softening). Throughout the pages, the author poses questions to ponder (‘Does brown have a sound?’; ‘What tells me more – an if or an or?’; ‘What lies beyond beyond?’) Words that inspire , recognition and knowledge, curiosity and delight, wonder and art. I’d be surprised if this book doesn’t win recognition / awards for best illustration. I love the art, I love the design, i love the end pages, I love The Wordy Book.


Each fall, the New York times publishes a list of TEN BEST ILLUSTRATED BOOKS, judged purely on the basis of artistic merit. Here are the winners listed in the NY Times book section, November 14, 2021 (i only own ONE of these titles)

(If they’d  ask Dr. Larry:  Sea Lions in the Parking Lot by Lenora Todaro; illus. Annika Siems , The Wordy Book by Julie Paschkis, Bright Star by Yuyi Morales, Wishes by Muo Thi Van or anything by Julie Flett! We All Play; On the Trapline)


I Am the Subway written and illustrated by Kim Hyo0-Eun

It Fell from the Sky written and illustrated by Terry Fan and Eric Fan

Keeping the City Going written and illustrated by Brian Floca

The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess written and illustrated by Tom Gauld

The Night Walk written and illustrated by Marei Dorleans

The Other Side of the Forest by Nadine Robert; illus. Gerard DuBois

Time is a Flower written and illustrated by Julie Morstad

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. Floyd Cooper

Vamos! Let’s Cross the Bridge by Raul the Third, colors by Elaine Bay

While You’re Sleeping by Mick Jackson; illus.John Broadley



The twelve picture books listed below are all Canadian, several published in the last couple of years. Acceptance is the key theme of these books whether its about puffins, sneezing cows, a little red shed or kids who are nervous about fitting in to a new school, a new home. 


ATLANTIC PUFFIN: Little Brother of the North by Krisin Bieber Domm; illus. Jeffrey C. Domm

I purchased this book during a recent trip to Newfoundland at the end of August, in preparation for a trip to a puffin colony in the Bonavista Peninsula. This book is filled with information about this amazing bird and is a good example of fact-filled nonfiction picture books. (Alas, the puffins had already headed out to the Atlantic for the winter and I only saw a few flying overhead on the rock. (Puffins webbed feat aand beak turn orange in the spring; Puffins eat a lot of capelin, herring and sand lance; Puffins have a bathroom in their burrows which the young use in an area near the front of the tunnel).

THE COW SAID BOO by Lana Button; illus. Alice Carter (2021)

When Cow catches a cold, her familiar “Moo” sounded like a “Boooooo!” through her stuffy nose. When Cow gets entangled in a clothesline her animal friends mistake Cow for a ghost and run away from her. An amusing, rhythmic barnyard adventure.

GREETINGS LEROY by Itah Sadu; illus. Alix Delinois

When his family moves to North America, Roy sends an email to his friend, Leroy,  back in Jamaica, describing his new home and his nervous feelings about coming to a new school. A celebration of making new friends – and of Bob Marley. 

HELLO, DARK by Wai Mai Wong; Illus Tamara Campeau

To help overcome his fear of the dark, a little boy, re-imagines bedtime darkness as a new friend by talking to it “I hear the creaks you make around the house.” / “The starry sky and moon shines brightly thanks to you.”  A book that will likely bring comfort to many youngsters, who too might be afraid of the dark.

THE HOMESICK CLUB by Libby Martinez illus. Rebecca Gibbon

Monica misses her home in Boliva. Hanna misses her home in Israel. The two become friends and form The Homesick Club to build connections from those who have come from far away (including their teacher). 

SHOUT OUT: A KID IS A KID IS A KID by Sara O’Leary; illus. Qin Leng (2021)

Being the new kid in school can be hard. The children in this school are bewildered by the questions that come their way (Are you a boy or a girl? Where do you come from? Why are you so small? Why was your sister born different?) and hope that their classmates will learn about the important and interesting things about themselves. Told with simple, text accompanied by lively playful illustrations this title is one of a favourite new acquisition. It will be the first picture book I will read to my grad class entitled Play, Language and Learning and I look forward to sharing it in classrooms to help students think about differences and acceptance. The dynamic duo who wrote A Family is a Family is a Family have given us another picture book gem. Love it!

LISTEN UP! TRAIN SONG by Victoria Allenby (2021)

A celebration of trains, with vivid photographs=, rhymes and sounds that sing of the railroad (Whooosh! Swooosh! / Rattle-Tattle, Rattle-tattle; Hisss! Fissss!)

THE LITTLE RED SHED by Adam and Jennifer Young; illus. Adam Young

Once white, the little red shed, her fellow sheds thought she being different and didn’t belong. Little Red Shed sets out on an ocean voyage and comes upon a whale, a new friend who helps her see how special she really is. A story from Newfoundland that celebrates differences.

MALAIKA’S SURPRISE by Nadia L. Hohn; illus. Irene Luxbacher (2021)

The creators of Malaika’s Winter Carnival reintroduce the charming Malaika Who enjoys playing carnival.  When she learns that her mother is expecting a baby, Malika is worried that she might be forgotten. A kind new school friend helps Malaika deal with her fears,

MY FRIEND by Elisa Amado; illus. Alfonso Ruano

A young girl moves from Mexico to Brooklyn and makes a new ‘best’ friend who she then invitees to dinner with her family. At dinner, the guest feels somewhat uncomfortable with exposure to new cultural experiences.  A story about fitting in and about being true to who you are. . 

ON THE LINE by Kari-Lynn Winters; illus. Scot Ritchie (2021)

The Moore family is best known for producing hockey heroes in their small town. But young Jackson feels like a potato on skates and feels that he doesn’t live up to the Moore reputation. But hockey heroes can be more than goal-scorers as Jackson finds out with a game plan to help his team who is at risk of losing the tournament with a shortage of equipment. A delightful story.

VIOLET SHRINK by Christine Baldacchino; illus. Carmen Mok

Many young readers will empathize and sympathize with Violet who is anxious about being in crowds with others. With a family reunion fast approaching Violet needs courage to join the party. 



The list of ten titles below provides quite a range of settings and plots – and characters, i.e., A member of Hitler youth, an Indigenous orphan, a mediaeval heroine, a ultra-shy tweenager, a Muslim boy who is a robot fanatic, a megamonstger, a fantasy (real?) friend. 



Kathy Kacer is a very special author who brings Holocaust history to today’s middle-age+ readers. She does her research. She is an expert storyteller. Kathy Kacer is a model author of historical fiction.  The setting of this book is Dusseldorf, Germany 1938. The story is centred on Paul who is under pressure to join the Hitler Youth which challenges his ethical beliefs and leads to some decisions that has an impact on those who are important to him including school friends, parents and Jews. Kacer presents the true story of the rebel group known as the Edelweiss Pirates  who were set out to undermine Nazi t power. Kacer has written over 20 books that focus on stories of the Holocaust ( The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, The Brave Princess and Me, The Brushmaker’s Daughter, Broken Strings (with Eric Walters). I’m so fond of this new book, not only because it emotionally took me into the history and cruelty of Nazi threats but it was a story of taking the courage to stand up and fight for what you believe in, a theme that resonates for today’s and tomorrow’s generation.  “I am a passionate advocate for stories about the Holocaust. I think the lesson we can learn – lessons about hatred and power, but also lessons about compassion, strength, and selflessness – are lessons for the ages?” (from Teaching Tough Topics, 2020, page 69)


Publisher’s synopsis: Narnia meets traditional Indigenous stories of the sky and constellations in an epic middle-grade fantasy series from award-winning author David Robertson.

Morgan and Eli, two Indigenous children forced away from their families and communities, are brought together in a foster home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They each feel disconnected, from their culture and each other, and struggle to fit in at school and at their new home — until they find a secret place, walled off in an unfinished attic bedroom. A portal opens to another reality, Askí, bringing them onto frozen, barren grounds, where they meet Ochek (Fisher). The only hunter supporting his starving community, Misewa, Ochek welcomes the human children, teaching them traditional ways to survive. But as the need for food becomes desperate, they embark on a dangerous mission. Accompanied by Arik, a sassy Squirrel they catch stealing from the trapline, they try to save Misewa before the icy grip of winter freezes everything — including them.

THE BEATRYCE PROPHECY by Kate DiCamillo; illus. Sophie Blackall

I only need to see Kate DiCamillo’s name on a book cover to know that I’m in for a good read. I’m so fond of her books (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Raymie Nightingale, The Tale of Desperaux, Flora and Ulysses) that I looked forward – and enjoyed reading this new novel, where a goat has to look out for herself and the wounded child in her care. Beatryce is a young girl hunted by the prophecy of a king that who feels threatened by being unseated by her. A cast of characters, (A timid monk, an orphan boy, a bearded stranger) a part of the tale of discovery, tragedy and love. “Love her is built on the deceptively simple belief that other beings in the world are fully our equals, sharing the same inherent worth, with as much right to life and joy, – with sorrow a certain outcome for us all.” (Naomi Novik, New York Times, review, Sept 19, 2021). I agree with the  Novik’s review when she says that Beatryce, ‘both the character and the book, are easy to love’. As is the author, Kate DiCamillo. 

BLACK BOY JOY (edited by Kwame Mbalia) (short stories)

A collection of 17 stories celebrating black boyhood, each written by an acclaimed Black male author. Stories include a nonbinary gender reveal, an intergalactic adventure, first love composing a song, a tribute to black boy joy told in graphic stylec and a jar filled with bubbles of joy to be spread around. 

50 WAYS TO SCORE A GOAL: And other football poems by Brian Bilston (poetry)

A collection of  60 funny, informative and whacky poems about those who are enamoured with football (i.e. SOCCER) and/or POETRY. I’m fond of this poet’s work and very pleased he’s published an appealing anthology for young readers. An array of rhyming and non-rhyming poetic forms. Some poem titles: Football is…;  Keepie-Uppies; A Ball Speaks Out; Every Day is Like a Cup Final Lucky Bobble Hat and 11 Football Haikus….

We’ve signed a legend.

He is half-human, half horse.

Plays centaur forward. 

HOME HOME by Lisa Allen-Agostini (ages 12+)

Fourteen year old Kayla suffers from clinical depression and anxiety disorder. After being hospitalized for a suicide attempt in Trinidad, her mother sends her daughter to Canada where she lives with her lesbian Aunt and her partner.  Life in Edmonton is very different for this black girl but a loving family, new friends and counselling give Kayla hope for a better future as well as a resistance to return Home Home to a life and culture she is accustomed to. This short novel (149 pages) is a powerful story that exposes Mental Health Issues through the eyes of an adolescent who suffers from anxiety attacks.

THE KALEDIOSCOPE by Brian Selznick

There’s no doubt that Brian Selznick is one of the most dazzling illustrators of children’s literature, renowned for his heavily visual books (The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruick, The Marvels).  His images interweave fantasy and reality worlds. Kaleidoscope is a collection of 24 short stories, each no more than 8 pages, each a memory, each a mystery, each a dream (correct me if I’m wrong but the word ‘dream’ appears in each (all) of the narratives. The book is divided into three sections, Morning, Afternoon, Evening but those divisions don’t particularly seem to add to the sequencing of narrative events.  I was a somewhat frustrated trying to relate the stories to one another and didn’t really settle in to what Selznick was attempting until I encountered the second section (Afternoon). A character named James, beloved by the narrator provides a link to the tales, but did James really exist? Is he a fantasy friend? Surprise magical events, many questions, left to be answered by the reader’s mind and imagination.  For me,  Kaleidoscope  stands on the shoulders of the brilliant The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg who presented staggering black and white images accompanied only by a title and one line of text. In this collection, each story is introduced by an enlarged kaleidscopic black and white design fragment (no colour needed) followed by a pictoral image related to the tale to be told (e.g. a key, a sliced apple, a tunnel gate, an angel.  Unlike, Van Allsburg, Selznick gives us stories to accompany his art and chapter titles which provide invitation enough to step into imagined worlds: A Trip to the Moon; The Spirit Machine; The Last Time it Happened; The Museum, The Lightning-Struck Tree; The Book of Dreams, The Mind of God.

Author’s Note

As I worked, certain themes and images kept reappearing: Gardens and butterflies, apples, angels, fires, trees, friendship, islands, keys, shipwrecks, grief and love. That’s why I decided to call this new version of the book Kaleidoscope, because each of these elements, like a bit of colored glass, turn and transform and rearrange themselves into something new. And like looking into a kaleidoscope, the view is alway changing and only you can see it.”

LILY’S PROMISE by Kathryn Erskine

Lily is a very shy, anxious 11 year=old who made a promise to her dying father to ‘Strive for Five’ to stand up and speak up five times because he said that each time, it would get easier. After being homeschooled Lily attends public school and the experience will test her courage – and promise. Newfound friends, curling-loving Hobart and recently-immigrated, Dunya,  give Lily support and hope as she is challenged to find a place to belong, even with the threats of the school bully. Kathryn Erskine not only provides a narrative of mental well-being, but deals with Islamophobia, the immigrant experience (Dunya’s father was a translator in Afghanistan), poverty, and social relationships of pre-adolescent students. The school election takes up the final portion of the story. A clever device the author introduces is that of the character of LIBRO who comments on the way the author tells the story. Libro’s metacognitive observations are interwoven between each of the novel’s narrative chapters.  Lily’s Promise good example of realistic fiction of the times as well as universal insights into the desire to be included and stand up for what you believe in. 

MEGAMONSTER by David Walliams

David Walliams has a formula to his books.  That’s not a bad thing.  Preposterous, ludicrous, wild characters caught in preposterous, ludicrous wild adventures. The setting of THE CRUEL SCHOOL with cruel teachers provides a backdrop for hilarious and some would say thrilling events that include, a secret cave, a Monsterfication Machine, sharks, lava, an evil cat, a lady in a drawer, and a  giant, green stick Bogey Man and a Monster Gang (Dino Girl, Giant Jelly, Meteor Man, Glug Monster, Atomic Amoeba).  The plot: Larker is determined to  take on Megamonster save  Cruel School students from the wicked Doctor Doktur.  Fun fonts, lively, thrilling Tony Ross illustrations,  fast-paced dialogue and gross ingredients are part of the Walliams formula. This one wasn’t my favourite.. but I’m eager to read whatever comes next from the Walliams and associates. 



Yusuf, a young Muslim Boy lives in a small town in Texas and living in a small town in Texas is not always easy. As he begins Middle School, he is assaulted with hate messages in his locker. You suck says one note: Go home says another. Who would do this? Why? Yusuf and his family (his father runs a dollar store) just want to live peacefully amongst their neighbours but The Patriot Sons are determined to take back the town; to take back the country. How should the Muslim community revolt against those who want them to “Go Home” when America is their home? Yusuf’s involvement in the regional robotics competition lifts shows him to be a committed, collaborative student. Saadia Faruqi introduces a journal written by Yusuf’s uncle describing the fears and anxieties of Muslims following the 9/11 terrorist attack. Journal entries, which are spread throughout the novel, help Yusuf to learn about history and to understand that hatred has been and continues to be a part of society. This book is highly recommended to learn about the culture and identity of Muslims and the shadow and threat of Islamophobia. 


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NOTE: The following list  of recommended was prepared to accompany a webinar presntation on October 4, 2021 for the Association of Jewish Librarians – Canada. Panel included, Sydell Waxman , Larry Swartz, Kathy Kacer.


Monday October 4, 2021

AJL-CANADA /Website: http://www.ajl-canada.org/



KATHY KACER / info@kathykacer.com

LARRY SWARTZ / larry.swartz@utoronto.ca / WEBSITE: Dr. Larry Recommends

SYDELL WAXMAN / sydellbw@gmail.com




Changing the Pattern by Sydell Waxman

The Incident at Massena by Saul S. Friedman

Jacob and the Mandolin Adventure by Anne Dublin

My Mannequins  by Sydell Waxman, illustrated by Patty Gallinger

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon, illustrated by Mark Siegel

When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest, illustrated by P.J. Lynch


PICTURE BOOKS: Jewish Identity and Culture


The Chanukah Noel: A true story by Sharon Jennings; Illus. Gillian Newland

Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup by Pamela Mayer; illus. Deborah Melman

Chik Chak Shabbat by Mara Rockliff; illus. Kyrsten Brooker

Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco

Saving Lady Liberty by Claudia Friedell; illus. Stacy Innerst


ANTISEMITISM:  Middle Years Fiction (ages 11-14) 2021


Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh

The Good War by Todd Strasser

Linked by Gordon Korman

Wednesday Wars Gary D. Schmidt (2007)

What We’re Scared Of by Keren David


KATHY KACER: Recent Titles


The Brave Princess and Me, illus. Juliana Kolesova (picture book: Second Story Press)

Broken Strings (with Eric Walters) (Penguin Random House)

The Brushmaker’s Daughter (Second Story Press)

Louder than Words (Annick Press)

Under the Iron Bridge (Second Story Press)



 The Poisonous Mushroom (Der Giftpitz) (1938) by Ernest Heimer; illus. Philipp Rupprecht (Nazi Propoganda)

Teaching Tough Topics: How do I use children’s literature to build a deeper understanding of social justice, equity, diversity by Larry Swartz (Pembroke Publishers)



AUGUST 2021: Larry’s Reading Log

I tried to catch up on the batch of grown-up books that have been staring at me over the year. Summer holidays and a vacation to Newfoundland provided me with a range of fiction, nonfiction, poetry (and one middle-years’ title) that carried me throughout August (and a bit into September)

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SHOUT OUT: Learned a wonderful word that was featured in Brian Bilston’s poetry collection Alexa, what is there to know about love?


(noun, Japanese: the act of acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them.)

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August 1: HOLA PAPI by John Paul Brammer

John Paul Brammer has a very popular advice column “Hola Papi” where he gives advice to young queer (and some straight) people. Brammer questions his authority to help others. The 15 chapters in this book take us through the author’s journey as a biracial Mexican American, closeted youth in Oklahoma to many hookups and love affairs (many through the Grindr app). This autobiography provides the author with the opportunity to tell stories about his past and his becoming the person he wants to be. In answering questions that come his way in his capacity as a professional advice-giver to LGBTQ people (How do I let go of a rotten relationship? How do I become more confident in my identity? Brammer analyzes his own life and views of the world as he attempts to find answers to questions drawn from his own questions, aspirations, relationships. I think this book has a specific audience, i.e. those who would want to write a letter to an LGBTQ advice columnist. That’s not a bad thing. 


In this slim collection of poetry (89 pages), Brian Bilston shares his views about love (And other things) in very very funny, and very very brilliant word play poems, each about a page in length. Whether one is a poetry lover or not, we tend to find pleasure when we ‘get’ what is being said and with each of these poems you quite gasp at the clever use of words and poetic form.Bilson, the author of You Took the Last Bus Home (loved it!) is a word magician. I was great that I got the joke in each of the 52 poems (or at least 50 of them!). Here’s a taste from a poem called ‘Lonely Hearts’

Woman, thrice widowed,
seeks man for love, sex, marriage
and possibly more.

Herb-loving woman
looking to find her Basil.
No thyme-wasters, please.

Haiku debutante,
with a fondness for rambling,
would like to meet a

August 4: BATH HAUS by P.J. Vernon

Oliver decides to cheat on his partner/’husband’.  The adventure in the Bath Haus ends up with being strangled and with bruise marks clearly evident Oliver ends up telling lies… and lies.. and lies to protect himself and to hold on to his picture-perfect partnership with Nathan, a surgeon.  I haven’t read a thriller in a long time, and as the plot unravelled and escalates with twists, sex capades and threats, i found myself immersed in gripping read, intriguing until the very end. 



August 7: PUTTING IT TOGETHER: How Stephen Sondheim created Sunday in the Park With George by James Lapine (Nonfiction)

I am a fan of Stephen Sondheim’s work. Sunday in the Park with George is at the top of the list of my favourites of his. It’s certainly in the top five favourites of my theatre-going career. The cast album featuring Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters would be desert island choice of music favourites.  I’ve been lucky enough to have seen a number of productions of this Pulitzer Prize winning play.  I weep / get goose bumps whenever I get to see a performance. Those goose-bumps reappeared as I read this staggering document of the making of this musical masterpiece, bringing George Seurat’s masterpiece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte to life. Told mostly through transcribed interviews with the cast and creative team and producers of the musical from it’s inception off-broadway to its broadway run of 604 performances, James Lapine, who wrote the book and directed the musical  details the agony and ecstasy  of putting it together, bit by bit. It’s hard not to quote Sondheim but the journey of this piece puts readers inside the experience of understanding that ‘Art Isn’t Easy’ . Definitions of dedication, sweat, perseverance, collaboration, revision, creativity, invention, reinvention, resilience and art-making are illuminated within this story of theatre-making. Standing ovation – and goosebumps – from me, Mr. Lapine. And of course to Mr. Sondheim. And  of course to George Seurat.  I so look forward to reading this book again, but in the meanwhile, I have the CD to keep me company. BONUS:  The script version of the play is presented in the final third of the book. 

August 8: POEMS BORN IN BERGEN-BELSEN by Menachem Rosenaft (Poetry)

Menachem Rosenaft, the son of two Holocaust survivors,  is a member of the World Jewish Congress and teachers about the law of genocide at Columbia and Cornell universities. Rosenaft was born in the Displaced Persons camp of Bergen-Belsen in Germany.  This collection of 82 poems, some very short, none more than 2 pages, portray the horrors of genocide, prejudice and hatred. Especially poignant are poems paying tribute to his five-and-a half-year old brother who was separated from their mother and murdered in a Birkenau gas chamber. This anthology deserves prominence in Holocaust literature through anger and through sensitivity, through powerful imagery , imagery and deep emotion,  often directed towards God. (excerpt: You who sits in heaven/ hide Your eyes/ as forever tortured soulds/ become immortal/ in the shadow of charred bones/ unpurged of their crucible/ still reeking of zykon-b...)

August 12: GODSPEED by Nickolas Butler

Every since reading Shotgun Lovesongs, I have been a fan of Nickolas Butler’s work and was pleased to dig into the author’s recent release. Butler stories seem to be about male bonding (straight male bonding) and about particular American landscapes. Godspeed is the Story of  Teddy, Bart and Cole who form a company called True Triangle Construction.  They are hired Gretchen, by a very beautiful, very enigmatic and very wealthy to complete an architectural masterpiece in the mountains of Jackson, Wyoming.  For reasons not made evident, the project must be completed in a matter of months. The trio is lured to meet the challenge because it promises a huge bonus that will change their reputations and their lives. Will they complete the project by designated deadline? And at what costs. The mystery behind the project, architectural details, the personal risk-taking for each of these men (one single, one divorced, one married) as well  (spoiler alert) violent and traumatic episodes  of Butler’s  narration makes this a compelling read. 

SHOUT OUT: August 21

SHUGGIE BAIN by Douglas Stuart

The writing is staggering. The story is harrowing. For certain, the best book I’ve read this year, sure to be #1 on my favourites. I’ve. been ‘warned’ that this book is very sad, and there is no doubt that the details of Agnes Baines alcoholism is heart-wrenching and the struggles of working-class families in 1980’s Glasgow is startling. But young Shuggie Bain adores his mother and even when his mother’s life and his family is on the brink of collapse,  Shuggie clings to  a sense of pride that  bring a flash of hope to the darkness. Each of the 32 chapters reads like a short story, and if there was ever a discussion about making this book shorter, I can’t think of one chapter that would be considered for elimination.  Yes, a masterpiece. 

two excerpts from page 346

“… he looked like a half-shut penknife, a thing that could be sharp and useful, that was instead closed and waiting and rusting.” 

“When he went to the house, she was snoring in that thick ay he had come to despise. He knew her head was backwards off the edge of the bed, and that her larynx was struggling to cope under the clogged bile of last night’s drink>”

Winner of the 2020 Booker Prize

This was the 200th book I’ve read since Lockdown, March 2020.


Boyne is a favourite author, and once again he entertains in this inventive narrative that spans the course of two thousand years. Characters that we meet in the opening chapter appear in alternate, but familiar, identities in each of the stories that move from A.D. 1 Palestine to  A.D. 2016, Palestine. Each chapter is about 8 pages in length, reads like a short story,  each filled with details of time and place and culture; craftsmanship, lust, and revenge. Around the world in 447 pages,  50 chapters,  Oh how clever you are, Mr. Boyne. 

September 2: UNDER THE IRON BRIDGE by Kathy Kacer

Kathy Kacer is a very special author who bringing Holocaust history to today’s middle-age+ readers. She does her research. She is an expert storyteller. Kathy Kacer is a model author of historical fiction.  The setting of this book is Dusseldorf< Germany 19=38. The story is centred on Paul who is under pressure to join the Hitler Youth which challenges his ethical beliefs and leads to some decisions that has an impact on those who are important to him including school friends, parents and Jews. Kacer presents the true story of the rebel group known as the Edelweiss Pirates  who were set out to undermine Nazi t power. Kacer has written over 20 books that focus on stories of the Holocaust ( The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, The Brave Princess and Me, The Brushmaker’s Daughter, Broken Strings (with Eric Walters). I’m so fond of this new book, not only because it emotionally took me into the history and cruelty of Nazi threats but it was a story of taking the courage to stand up and fight for what you believe in, a theme that resonates for today’s and tomorrow’s generation.  “I am a passionate advocate for stories about the Holocaust. I think the lesson we can learn – lessons about hatred and power, but also lessons about compassion, strength, and selflessness – are lessons for the ages?” (from Teaching Tough Topics, 2020, page 69)

September 5: THE GUNCLE by Steven Rowley

When their mother passes away, 6 year old Grant and 9 year old Maisie become the ward of gay uncle (Guncle) Patrick who 8s well-settled into being a retired television celebrity living a rather rich life in Palm Springs California. Patrick sets out to help his niece and nephew deal with their grief (and his own) and along the way provide. provide them with some cultural knowledge, gay and/or otherwise.  Patrick Dennis book Auntie Mame delighted me in my younger days as I yearned for an adventurous life that Auntie Mame offered her nephew. This book is somewhat comparable but I wasn’t enamoured with this book that seemed at times unbelievable’ and I didn’t have as much fun as the trio seemed to be having. At times when Rowley seems to reach for an emotional grasp, his narrative changes course (infatuation, a proposed comeback, family reconciliations,  partying). I wanted to like this book. I didn’t.







PICTURE BOOKS: Summer 2021

There is quite a mix of intentions with the eleven picture book titles listed below with such focus topics as wishes, a doll, the sea, the wind, skin colour, art, war and YOU!


Shout Out! BE YOU! Peter H. Reynolds

The perfect picture book  giving simple and poignant advice:  Be ready…Be curious…Be adventurous…Be Connected… Be Persistent…Be different…Be kind.. Be understanding…Be brave…etc. This book will be on the bestseller list for many years ahead, sitting alongside Dr. Seuss’s, Oh The Places You’ll Go! and Sandra Boynton’s Yay You! .  Dear Mr. Reynolds… Always be as terrific as you’ve always been. 

THE BOY AND THE SEA by Camille Andros; illus. Amy Bates

What are your memories of going to the sea? What are some special times you’ve spent with a grandparent? Did you ever find yourself thinking about the meaning of life? This is a beautiful beautiful picture book. A rather meditative, somewhat sophisticated journey through the stages of life. Andros tells  the life journey of a curious boy who lived by the sea and who imagined all that he might be come, as a teen, as a parent as a grandpa. It is the waves and whispers of the sea the boy listened to throughout his life to help answer questions about dreams, love and being. (“The boy liked to think, and often his thoughts turned into questions,. Some of his questions had answers.”) The simplicity of the text andAmy Bates’ blue and green watercolour palette, help to make this a contemplative artifact, that bears repeated visits. 

A CHANUKAH NOEL by Sharon Jennings; illus. Gillian Newland (2010)

In a small town in France, Charlotte, a young Jewish girl longs to celebrate Christmas and join in the spirit of the town as they prepare for the holidays.  Collette Levert and her family can’t afford to partake in the festivities and when Charlotte learns of this, she convinces her parents to prepare a Christmas meal for the Leverts.  Together the girls experience the joysof both Christmas and Chanukah and sharing, A beautiful story of kindness, acceptance and kindness. 

THE COLORS WE SHARE by Angelica Dass

The artist presents a gallery of photographs to shine a light on the skin we live in.  The background for each portrait is matched to the skin colour of the person’s nose using the colour palette called Pantone. The word Pantone followed by a series of numbers an letters below each picture is featured throughout. This picture book is representative of a world-wide Humane project to question the concept of race and show that skin colour is much more complex than assigned categories. (“Even though it seems like we’re talking about color, we’re really talking about how we see each other and what we believe about others based on the color of their skin. This beautifully graphic picture book is complex in its simplicity in helping readers think about Skin, Race and Differentiation 

THE DOLL by Nhung N Tran-Davies; illus. Ravy Puth

A refugee family (Boat People) travels across the world to find safety in a new home. They are greeted by strangers, and the young girl in the family is given a doll. Decades later, the little girl has grown up and welcomes a group of refugees to their newly adopted country. Remembering the kindness once given to her, the girl passes the doll, with rose-sweet lips, on to a little girl, knowing that it will bring comfort, knowing that it is an artifact of welcome and kindness. Based on the author’s experiences, Nhung’s doll is now on display at the Canadian Museum of Immigration, Pier 21, Halifax. A heartwarming story that illuminates the notion of ripples of kindness. 

GA’S THE TRAIN by Jodie Callaghan: translated by Joe Wilmot; illus. Georgia Leslie

When Ashley meet her great uncle by the old train tracks near their community, he tell her the story of the days in the past, when he and other children were taken on the train to a residential school, thus changing their lives forever. The book written in both Mi’gmaw and English was the winner of the Second Story Press Indigenous Writing Contest.

MY ART WORLD by Rita Winkler

Rita, a young woman living with Down syndrome takes readers into her world through vivid paintings and words. Rita enthusiastically lives each day fully, taking yoga and folk dancing classes, participating in drama and music programs and working at a university coffee. Rita’s joyous art and inspiring story certainly warms the heart and brings smiles to any reader.

WAR by Jose Jorge Letria; illus. Andre Letria

With spare text (“War takes on the brutal shape of all our fears.” / “War feeds on hate, ambition and spite.” and powerful monochromatic visual images, this picture book (for older readers), raises questions and invites discussion about the causes and impact of WAR. A quote from Deborah Ellis states “If children are old enough to be bombed they are old enough to read about it.”

WINDY DAYS by Deborah Kerbel; illus. Miki Sata

The author salutes the fun and energy of days where the wind blows and tree branches, tap, geese take flight leave dance, and turbines flow. Told in rhythmic couplets (“Gusting wind: Whoosh and whirl / Flags a-flutter, pinwheels curl.”) that highlight the sounds and sights of windy weather, with vibrant collage illustrations this is an engaging book to share with young children as they think about the outdoors and the wind… in any season.  Hats off to Windy Days!!(pun intended)


by Helen Wolfe; illus. Karen Patakou

What a beautiful beautiful collection of biographies about women from around the world who share their stories about living with disabilities. The ten women in this book talk about challenges in the environment, employment, education, policies and social attitudes they’ve encountered that make it problematic to live a full life,  Moreover, each word-portraits shines a light on determination to tell others know about their physical and emotional world. Whether these women were born with their disabilities or were born able-bodied and suddenly becoming disabled, these are stories of using a wheelchair of living with cerebral palsy, or autism, losing sight and hearing, or limbs these lives are linked together by bravery, achievement and carrying-on determination. Bravo to Karen Patkaus’  full page illustrations of capturing the spirti and smiles of these beautiful women. Wow! to educator Helen Wolf for these remarkable portraits of women, who without a doubt are UNSTOPPABLE. 

WISHES by Mu’o’n Thi Van: illus. Victo Ngai

The story of a refugee family who is forced to leave their homeland and travel to an unknown place. Each wish, expressed from the point of view of an inanimate object serves as a testimony to resilience and hope. (The clock wished it was slower. The path wished it was shorter. The boat wished it was bigger. The sea wished it was calmer). In the end a young girl is hopeful when arriving she sees a new land, a new beginning, a new place called home awaiting her and her family.  Full-page art spreads and simple poetic text make this a powerful and poignant portrayal of the migrant experience.