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.

FICTION: MIDDLE YEARS, 2021

Here is a list of 10 novels for readers ages 10-13. One was my very favourite book so far this year. One of them hugely disappointed me. One was written by a former colleague of mine who I spent many a lunchtime gabfest with.  One was  very funny. One was very very very funny. One was a Newbery Award Winner.  A graphic story, a favourite author, a Canadian author, a multimodal story, a heart-stopping adventure,  a rabbit’s tale, were all mixed into my 2021 start-0f-the-year reading. 

 

THE CANYON’S EDGE by Dusti Bowling

It is Nora’s birthday and she and her father head into the Arizona desert to celebrate. Things turn for the worse, when Nora finds herself stuck in the bottom of a slot canyon, separated from her father who was taken away by a flash flood. This is a remarkable survival story where the young girl, without any supplies, faces dehydration, scorpions, snakes, frigid weather and fears and haunting memories of her mother who was killed in a shooting one year ago. Dusti Bowling (Insignificant Events in the Life of the Desert), knows all about the Arizona desert and takes readers into a frightening situations that will leave them ‘on the edge’. And this is novel is written in free-verse style. Bravo!

ILLEGAL by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin: illus. Giovanni Rigano (graphic novel)

When his brother, Kwame, disappears from his home in Ghana, Ebo is determined to  find his brother and join him on a journey to Europe. The story is told in alternating chapters – Then and Now describing Ebo’s dangerous journey across the Sahara Desert and dangerous streets (then) and the hazardous, harrowing journey at sea, riding perilously on a boat with other hopeful refugees.  This is a moving and nail-biting narrative, though fictional, is based on the true stories of ‘illegals’ forced to flee and struggle to survive.  Illustrator Rigano has mightily captured the landscapes, human expressions and   the cinematic events in alternating palettes (golden browns (then); midnight blues and turquoises (now). A worthwhile companion read to When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson.  From the preface: “You, who are so-called illegal aliens, must know that no human being is illegal…. How can a human being be illegal?” (Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor). 

THE SMARTEST KID IN THE UNIVERSE by Chris Grabenstein

Jake is just a ‘regular’ kid but when he eats a batch of jelly beans left aside at a hotel conference he suddenly finds himself to be ‘the smartest kid in the universe’.  His blurting out of facts astonishes his friends, family and teachers (TED talks stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design (T-E-D),but being so clever now leads him to help solve the problem of his middle school being torn down to make way for a luxury condo.  Grabenstein is a hero for writing wild and crazy adventures.  Helping the FBI, speedily learning to speak Spanish, finding Haazim Farooqui, the scientist who is responsible for IK (Ingestible Knowledge)  pills / jelly beans, being tested for IQ, having a friend addicted to watching detective shows, going on a mission to recover a long lost pirate treasure, becoming a basketball star, winning Quiz Bowl tournaments, infatuation, underarm perspiration and halitosis, are story elements that all whirl together to make this another Grabenstein winner. (first in a series) 

 

SHOUT OUT!  GROUND ZERO: A novel of 9/11 by Alan Gratz

This is a GREAT book!.  This is a THRILLING book! This is an IMPORTANT book. I am assured that Ground Zero will be a popular reading choice for students, ages 10-13 this year, particularly as we approach the 20th anniversary of the following of the Twin Towers.  There have been several books written about the 9/11 experience. (Nine, Ten: A September 11 story by Nora Raleigh Baskin,  Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes). In this novel, like Eric Walters’s, We All Fall Down,  a boy is visiting the tower on the day of the disaster. Brandon has been suspended from school and his father, who works as a chef in the top floor of the North Tower restaurant, insists that Brandon come to work with him. Early in the morning, Brandon is separated from his father because of a plan he had to go shopping in the underground mall. History tells us what happens, but through a fictional character we learn step by step how someone faced the confounding dangers of collapsing walls, being trapped in elevators, fire blasts, crowded staircases, power outages and the devastating fear of not knowing how you will survive. The events that Gratz takes readers through are heart-stopping. But, Gratz goes further.  The book is told in alternating chapters. After reading Brandon in 2001. the narrative takes us to September 11, 2010, Afghanistan where we meet Rashmina who has grown up in the shadow of war. When she ends up rescuing an American soldier named Taz, Rasmina needs to make decisions that involve her family, her community.  The young girl’s brother is determined to join the Taliban. In the chapters set in Afghanistan, readers learn about a family surviving with meagre means, ammunition hidden in caves, the threat of Taliban, the question of American as allies. revenge, bomb blasts and rescue. The author brilliantly interweaves past and present, illuminating personal tragedies and political views as he builds two heart-in-the mouth stories. I consider Alan Gratz’s REFUGEE a must read. Add  the riveting poignant Ground Zero to that must read list. It will be. 

 

BENBEE AND THE TEACHER GRIEFER by. K.A. Holt

DISCLAIMER: I know nothing about video games. Never play em. Not interested. I am however aways eager to read novels presented in multimodal format and K.A. Holt’s book is told from four different perspectives (+),  and includes  free-verse (double column, no less) (+), chat conversations, illustrated notebook entries and prose style. I also was intrigued with the plot of a reading teacher helping her students to pass the Florida Rigorous Academic Assessment Test (FART) . Stuck in summer school, the middle school  characters, divergent thinkers all, see things differently than the way school demands.  It is an addiction to Sandbox, a video game a la Minecraft tht keeps them motivated and the students make a deal with Ms. J that a minute with reading aloud equals one minute they get to play the video game.  Read some reviews of the book that were mighty favourable, and there is no doubt that tweenagers will enjoy the book. But I did not enjoy this book (See Disclaimer). The premise seemed interesting enough but I was puzzled by the teacher’s approach (reading aloud=successful literacy testing); the really smart inner voices  and language ability of these supposedly Special Needs Learners.  I was perturbed by the fact that the teacher refused to call Ben Y by their chosen name. I was angry that these kids were squeezed in under the stairs of the school.  I accept that a teacher of worth would always seek the strength of their students and teach according to their needs. I like that the kids become a community.  but  the narrative was a slog for me. Can’t win ’em all. If this is the first in a series, count me out.  I much preferred The Unteachables by Gordon Korman where I laughed at the teacher and rooted for those struggling students. 

FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON by Janae Marks

This novel rides on two mysteries 1. Will Zoe Washington achieve her dream of joining America’s Kids Baking Contest on TV 2. Will she be able to find proof that her father who has been in prison since her birth is innocent of committing murder. Readers will certainly root for 12 year old Zoe who is determined to create the ‘best cupcake’ to show off her talents and who is even more determined to communicate with the father she’s never met and to find a witness who might help with his case. Her quest forces her to tell likes and keep secrets from her mother and stepfather. An engaging, emotional  narrative filled with hope. 

UNTIL NIAGARA FALLS by Jennifer Maruno

Each chapter in this novel tells a story that involves friendship (and loyalties), community living, a summertime pastimes in the early 1960’s. Anecdotes about going to library, riding bicycles, going to the local swimming pool, wiener roasts, and churchgoing.. and pickles  are delightful to read. This novel encourages young readers to thing of their own summers, their own family and friendships, no matter where they live. I could taste the jujubes, the double bubble gum, I could hear the roar of the falls, I could see those souvenir stores and library rooms. Jennifer and I were teaching colleagues long ago in the Peel District. You’ve come a long way, kiddo!

CODE NAME BANANAS by David Walliams

I look forward to reading a new novel by the wildly entertaining author David Walliams.His stories are full adventure – farcical and absurd  and funny! This kind of stuff has a huge appeal for young readers and it’s no wonder that his books have been number one in book lists and sold more than 40 million copies worldwide. Applause for his inventive narratives, the design of the books with a range of fonts, black backgrounds and spot illustrations contribute to the appeal of these book treasures. And make no mistake, the gifted illustrator of these books, Tony Ross, explodes the narrative and delight the eyes the eyes while animating the verbal text. CODE NAME BANANAS is set in World War II, the London Blitz, Nazi attacks, a threatened assassination on Winston Churchill and a Gorilla named Gertrude who has been rescued from the London Zoo.  There was a somewhat different flavour to this Walliams title that had a layer of historical fiction.  But Walliams doesn’t fail to be farcically funny and has gone bananas with this adventure of an orphan boy, his uncle who has tin legs and a very loyal and very hungry monkey (oops! make that an ape!). 

ALICE’S FARM: A Rabbit’s Tale by Maryrose Wood

I’m quite fond of anthropomorphic stories (The One and Only Ivan; Abel’s Island) and this novel is a beautifully written tale in which rabbits and foxes and weasels and a bald eagle named John Glenn, live together, even if they are predator or prey. The Harvey family arrive from the big city to Prune Street Farm. Perhaps they are naive in their decision to make a go of it. but determined they are to find success. Alice, the rabbit, her brother and her friends collaborate to save the farm from being bulldozed, coming up with a plan (with the cooperation of other animals) to build a ‘miracle’ garden. Not since Charlotte’s Web have we been immersed in the everyday life of begin a farmer. But this book is full of life’s challenges and joys: the preservation of eagles, the threat of developers to overtake a property; the idea of homeschooling; the fear of hunters; the preservation of eagles; the ritual of annual autumn marketing; a community helping each other; the decision about being a vegetarian,  a passion for  creating a new product (dehydrated fruit)’ the inevitability of death and a family struggling to follow their dreams. Womderful writing. Great storytelling. 

 

SHOUT OUT: Newbery Winners 2021

NEWBERY MEDAL

WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER by Tae Keller

This is a powerful story about the power of stories.  Lily is a young Korean girl who moves into her grandmother’s home with her sister and mother. A stranger calls and wants to retrieve something from Halmoni (Grandmother).  The stranger happens to be a tiger. The something happens to be jars of story stars. Keller draws stories from Korean folklore in this captivating, often thrilling , story of friendship,  heritage and loyalty.Lily’s strange encounters with a tiger and with hopes hopes of rescuing her ailing grandmother from getting sicker, make this a engaging novel about identity, culture and family for middle age readers.  

NEWBERY HONOR WINNERS:

FIGHTING WORDS by Kimberly Brubaer Bradley

WE DREAM OF SPACE: Erin Entrada Kelly

ALL THIRTEEN: THE INCREDIBLE CAVE RESCUE OF THE THI BOYS SOCCER TEAM by Christina Soontornvat

BOX: HENRY BROWN MAILS HIMSELF TO FREEDOM by Carole Boston Weatherford

 

RECENT PICTURE BOOK PURCHASES

Fiction, nonfiction and poetry titles and some titles  that deal with tough topics – and the pandemic. Some staggering art abounds, including a list of Caldecott winners, 2021.

THE LIGHTS & TYPES OF SHIPS AT NIGHTS by Dave Eggers; illus. Annie Dills (nonfiction)

WOW! WOW! WO! This book is a celebration of ships that pass in the night providing. readers with essential facts about all kinds of boats  (a container ship, a RORO, a trawler, a galleon.  Moreover, the astonishing art illuminates the words. You can certainly see those lights shine brightly as they explode off the dark background.  Follow the invitation the author to give praise to the world of boats: “But did you realize that of all the worlds most beautiful sights, there is nothing more beautiful than a ship and its lights on the sea at night? This is true This is a factual book.”  This premise may be far removed from the world of most young citizens but isn’t it oh-so-wonderful- the worlds and information that a great picture book to their wondering minds?

A PLACE INSIDE OF ME: A poem to heal the heart by Zetta Elliott; illus. Noa Denman (poem)

This title recently received a Caldecott Honour prize. Through the eyes of a Black  boy, readers think about the different emotions that young adolescents might experience, (i.e., fear, anger, pride, joy). Amidst grief and protests and healing, “There is still hope inside of me/ a promise deep down inside of me/ that I will use my life to help others/ and they will help me in return.” 

WE ALL BELONG by Nathalie Goss; illus. Goss

Simple rhyming text and clear illustrations help young children think about the fact that “Everyone is different in one way or another.” A good introduction to diversity. 

THINKER: MY PUPPY POET AND ME by Eloise Greenfield; illus. Ehsan Abdollahi (poetry)

A small collection of free=verse. poems, written by an average puppy named Thinker. Jace’s pet needs to keep quiet, but when he accompany’s his owner to school one day his secret identity as poet extraordinaire is revealed.

When I recite my poems,
I make music. I say the words
fast or slow high or low,
I stop and I go, almost
like singing, making
word-music

CATCH THE SKY by Robert Heidbreder; illus. Emily Dove

Each short rhymes (each four lines) in this collection is a tribute to things we see  high in the sky. (e.g., Kites, Dragonflies, Balloons, Helicopter, Elephant Cloud, ). The subtitle of the book ‘ Playful  Poems on the Air We Share”  is an invitation to read these poems to and with young readers. Wonderful!

Crows

Dark sprays of wings

     through fading light,

        crowd-clouds of crows

             head home for the night.

INTERSECTION ALLIES: We Make Room for All by Chelsea Johnshon, La Toya Council, & Carolyn Choi; illus. Ashley Seil Smith

The intersection of our identity (ie. age, sin colour, religion, body size, class and culture identify who we are and how we live. By helping young people think about  how all the different parts of ourselves combine to affect our life experiences and personal identity (i.e., Intersectionality), the authors invite our students to open their arms up wide to ‘make room’ for those who are not like us. Despite differences, we can still have values and interests and stories that intersect. A remarkable, accessible book told in rhyme that helps readers grown in their understanding of uniqueness and social justice. Much thanks to teacher Tracey Donaldson for recommending this titles. 

THE CAT MAN OF ALEPPO by Irene Latham; Shamsi-Basha Karium and Yuko Shimizu (nonfiction)

This is based on the true story of a Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel who bravely offered safe haven to hundreds cats in Aleppo  left stranded the midst of Syrian Civil War. This title was the recipient of the Caldecott Honor, 2021. The story and art together make this a treasured book for sharing 

AND THE PEOPLE STAYED HOME by Kitty O’Meara; illus. Stefano Di Cristofaro and Paul Pereda

A book for our times when e we needed to go into quarantine. This poem was written in the early days of the global coronavirus pandemic and posted o Facebook. The book has now presented as a picture book with simple statements and large pages flat-colour illustrations The words help readers to think about the importance of spending time with ourselves, to cherish the people and things in our lives and to consider our place in the planet. (“And the people began to think differently. And the people healed.”).  I have a hunch we’ll be meeting much literature about COVID 19.  A book like this (and Eric Walters’ novel “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” are worthy pieces to begin the journey. 

WHO ARE REFUGEES AND MIGRANTS? WHAT MAKES PEOPLE LEAVE THEIR HOMES? and other big questions by Michael Rosen 7 Annemarie Young (nonfiction)

This nonfiction book answers some essential questions to help readers understand the lives of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who have left their homes, often experiencing life-threatening journeys to find safety. The questions and answers are clearly laid out (with photographs) in 485 page resource which  succinctly provides explanations to help readers a) understand the plight of millions of people across the world b) think about the big questions raised by the subject and think about their own views and responsibilities to human rights. 

I AM HUMAN: A Book of Empathy by Susan Verde; illus. Peter H. Reynolds

This title affirms that being human means that we find joy in friendships, be fearful of things we don’t yet understand.,  and that we are not perfect and make mistakes.  If I  “keep trying to be the best version of ME”, I know that I need to make good choices, act with compassion have empathy for others, thereby feeling l am connected to the goodness of the world.

BOX: Henry Brown Mills Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. Michele Wood (biography; poetry)

 There are many fine examples of children’s picture books, biographies and novels to help readers make sense of the Slavery and the Undergroiund Railroad experience. In this award-winning book, Poet Carole Boston Weatherford  tells the story of Henry Brown, who shipped himself in a box from slavery to freedom. The narration is told in titled stanzas of six lines each ‘each line representing one side of a box.’  Factual information drawn from both Brown’s own writing and historical records provide the poetic narration. The art work (mostly given full pages) exquisitely conveys the life of African Africans seeking freedom. An important, astonishing,  picture book creation. 

SOMETIMES A WALL by Dianne White; Illus. Barroux

We haven’t heard the word “I’m building a wall,’ much in the lasg couple of years but in this picture book, we go an a neighbourhod journey, through simple subtly rhyming text to encounter all kinds of walls. (‘So many things we choose to do / Different sides and points of view.

 

SHOUT OUT: Caldecott Awards Winners, 2021

WE ARE WATER PROTECTORS by Carole Lindstrom; illus. Michaela Goade (2020)

This picture book is worthy of the awards it will/should receive. A rally cry to save the Earth’s water from harm and corruption (i.e. the harm of the evil black snake). “This is not a Native American issue; this is a humanitarian issue. It is time that we all become stewards of our planet so we can protect it for our children and our children’s children./ Water affects and connects us all. We must fight to protect it.” Carole Lindstrom

WHY?: Inspired by Indigenous movements to defend the sacred resource. A strong companion piece to award-winning The Water Walker by Canadian Ojibwe author.  Lush jewel-coloured illustrations provide an art-gallery of visuals. Bonus: Appendix essay /More on Water Protectors. Bonus (final page) An Earth Steward and Water Protector Pledge (“I will do my best to honor Mother Earth and all its living beings, including the water and land. I will always remember to treat the Earth as I would like to be treated.”)

We stand

With our songs

And our drums.

We are still here.

 

Caldecott Honor Winners

ME AND MAMA by Cozbi  Cabrera

THE CAT MAN OF ALEPPO  by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha;  illus. Yoku Shimuzu

OUTSIDE IN by Deborah Underwood; illus. Cindy Derby.

A PLACE INSIDE OF ME by Noa Denmon; illus, Zetta Elliott

LARRY’S FAVOURITES 2020

It’s been quite the different year. (You can quote me on that!). Going to live theatre came to a stop in early March. Sitting in a Cineplex seems to be a thing of the past. Watched more Netflix than I ever have before. Tried to catch some theatre events being streamed (some were readings of plays). Being stuck inside, I accomplished a LOT of reading… over 160 books, a majority was children’s literature, but lots of grown-up reads too. In the middle of the night, I kept ordering stuff from Amazon and though I was hoping that the pandemic would reduce my ‘to read’ stacks, I have piles to go before I sleep.

The following is an attempt to highlight some of my favourites. Though I tried to keep up with new releases, not all literature came from 2020 titles. Items are listed alphabetically, and because most novels were targeted for Middle Years, my list is a bit longer for those titles. 

I gave up limiting each list to five titles. I gave up choosing the best of the best, but I’ve put an asterisk beside some titles that were some of my  favourite favourite things.


PICTURE BOOKS

If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall 

Wild Symphony Dan Brown (illus. Susan Batori (poetry)

All Because You Matter by Tami Charles; illus Bryan Collier

I Talk Like a River  Jordan Scott; illus. Sydney Smith *
I Am Every Good Thing Derrick Barnes; illus Gordon C. James
Outside In  Deborah Underwood; illus. Cindy Derby *
We Are All Water Protectors Carole Lindstrom; illus. Michaela Goade *

NOVELS: MIDDLE YEARS

The Colour of the Sun David Almond
Fighting Words Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Class Act Jerry Craft

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise Dan Gemeinhart
How to Bee Brin MacDibble *

Prairie Lotus Linda Sue Park
Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney
Becoming Mohammad Ali by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander *
Ghost Boys Jewell Parker Rhodes (reread) *
Three Keys Kelly Yang

NOVELS: CANADIAN

The Case of Missing Auntie Michael Hutchinson
The Greats Deborah Ellis
The Brushmaker’s Daughter Kathy Kacer
Don’t Stand So Close to Me by Eric Walters
The King of Jam Sandwiches Eric Walters 

GRAPHIC TEXTS

Dancing at the Pity Party Tyler Feder

When Stars Are Scattered  Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed *
A Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel  Jason Reynolds *
Dragon Hoops  Gene Luen Yang *
The Wanderer (wordless) Peter Van den Ende

GROWN-UP READS

Anxious People by Frederik Backman

The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes (NF)
Apeirogon by Colum McCann *
Let the Great World Spin by Column McCann
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell *
Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld (NF)

NETFLIX (Series)

Fauda

Flowers 
La Casa de Los Flores (House of Flowers)
The Crown
, Season 4
Midnight Diner *
Ozark
The Queen’s Gambit
Rita

AMAZON PRIME 

The Amazing Mrs. Maisel
Flesh and Blood

Friday Night Dinner 
Normal People
Small Axe (5 films)

MOVIES

Burning
Mother *
The Personal History of David Copperfield (Cineplex)
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Cineplex)
Sorry We Missed You (Cineplex) *

Da 5 Blood

Another Round

DOCUMENTARIES

Botero

Father, Soldier, Son

Filthy Rich: Jeffrey Epstein 
The Octopus Teacher (Netflix) *
What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

PLAYS: Streaming

Barbecue
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk
Lips Together, Teeth Apart
The Men From the Boys
A Monster Calls 
Pipeline
Sea / Wall
Three Kings *

PLAYS AS FILMS (TV)

American Utopia *
The Boys in the Band
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
What the Constitution Means to Me

PLAYS: LIVE…(January-March)

Adrenaline

Midsummer’s Night Dream (Theatre Rusticle)

Box 4901
Caroline or Change (The Musical Stage Company)
My Name is Lucy Barton (NY)
Sunday in the Park with George (Eclipse Theatre)
West Side Story (NY) *

 

CD’s (yes, CD’s)

THE DREAM OF YOU Diana Krall

RENDEZVOUS WITH MARLENE Ute Lemper

SOMEWHERE ELSE: West Side Story Songs Ted Nash

DEBUSSY/RAMEAU Vikingur Olaffsson

DOLLY PARTON: Greatest Hits Dolly Parton

WOMAN CHILD  Cecile McLorin Salvant *

IN THE HEART OF THE MOON Ali Farka Toure

 

ETC. / SHOUT OUTS

TELEPHONE TALES Gianni Rodari; illus. Valerio Vidali (70 short stories translated from the Italian)
TAKE ME TO THE WORLD: A SONDHEIM 90th BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION
CECILE McLORIN SALVANT (all 5 CD’s)

GROWN-UP READS: Fall 2020

The 9 titles below are fairly eclectic mix of  hilarious, mysterious, diary, short stories, Canadian and non-Canadian. Next up…I’m going to dig into books by favourite authors (John Boyne, Rachael Joyce, David Leavitt, Colum McCann).  If folks would stop recommending titles to me I’d perhaps get to those 20 or so books staring at me.  But keep those recommendations, coming… I think we’ll be stuck indoors for a while longer. 

 

ANXIOUS PEOPLE by Frederik Backman

This is the newest title by popular author Frederik (A Man Called Ove) Backman. This book is hilarious.  I was entertained and enlightened by this whacky farcical story” about a bank robbery, an apartment viewing, and a hostage drama. But even more it’s a story about idiots. But perhaps not only that”.  (p. 98)  This is my favourite of of Backman’s books since since Ove. It was the last novel I read in 2020. I loved it!

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY by Matt Haig

Do you have any regrets about the choices you’ve made or the way you’ve lived your life? If you could go back in time to make changes, small or large would you? Nora Seeds, in her late 30’s is very unhappy with her life, so despondent, so wallowing in self-pity that she wants to end her life (“I am a waste of carbon footprint..” “I am not cut out for living.” )When Nora  finds herself in the Midnight Library, she has a chance to replay the events of her life by choosing from shelves of books that will allow her do things differently.  Will she find a perfect life? Will she after experiences hundreds of life stories (singer in a band, Olympic swimmer, author, Arctic traveller find the answer to the question, “What is the best way to live?” I myself don’t seem to live a life that dwells on regrets, so I didn’t seem to emerse myself in Nora’s adventures back in time. Accepting the fantasy premise that you can re-do your life, I was intrigued enough to keep reading if and how Nora will find happiness.

RABBIT FOOT BILL by Helen Humphreys

Humphreys draws on real life events that took place in Saskatchewan in 1947 when a an outsider, named Rabbit Foot Bill killed a bully boy.  In the novel, a young boy named Leonard flint was enamoured with Rabbit Foot Bill’s free-spirited life living alone and chasing rabbits. The book skips through time, from 1947 to 1959 (back to 1947) and then to 1970. When Leonard Flint arrives at Weyburn Mental Hospital, known for LSD experiments with mental patients, he meets up with Rabbit Foot Bill once again and is eager to establish a bond with him. The book is a mystery story, digging into the events of the past, but moreover, a psychological narrative, digging into why we behave the way we do. I loved this book. Humphreys is a great storyteller, describing events and feelings with clarity and compassion.

LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN by Colum McCann

This novel has been sitting on my shelf for a few years and I knew I’d get around to reading it one day. This summer, after reading the author’s newest publication APEIROGON, I’ve been collecting some McCann novels and was eager to find out what all the fuss was about with Let The Great World Spin. When my nephew recently asked me what it was about, I said that it was the story of the guy who walked across the twin towers in the ’70’s. That news event filters throughout the novel, but the book is more than the story of PHILIPPE PETIT’S harrowing feat. Narratives include a young Irish monk living in the Bronx who brings salvation amongst prostitutes, a group of mothers, connected by the loss of their songs who died in Vietnam, who meet in a Park Avenue apartment, a prostitute and her mother charged with misdemeanors and a Jewish judge who, in some way, connects all the stories. But the main character is the city of New York. who draws humans together through tragedy and hope. Yes, McCann is deserved of praise for this heartbreaking novel. I am anxious to read three other of his titles sitting on my shelf.

THE DIARY OF DUKESANG WONG: A Voice from Gold Mountain by Dagid McIlwraith; illus. Wanda Joy Hoe (NF)

This book contains the only known first-person account by a Chinese worker on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad and serves as witness account to the life and times of thousands of Chinese railway workers. The book presents translations by Wanda Joe Hoe  of her grandfather’s diaries from 1867-1918 outlining Wong’s journey. This narrative journey includes  Wong’s decision to emigrate from an unstable China, the appalling conditions, hard labor  working on the CPR he encountered, and finally  to the time he became a father, husband and tailor in New Westminster BC.  It is the document not only of racism and exploitation but it is the story of the strength of the human spirit.

THE ROUND HOUSE by Louise Erdrich

The setting –  a reservation in North Dakota, 1988. The protagonist – thirteen-year-old Joe who’s family life is transformed when his mother has been raped. As Joe tries to bring comfort to his traumatized mother and gets answers about the crime from his father, a tribal judge, he is prepared to independently embark on the investigation. This book is more than a mystery story and a coming-of age story. It provides powerful (and comical) (and spiritual) narratives of the Ojibwe experience.  This National Book Award winner provided the author with a platform for 1 in 3 Native women who will be raped in her lifetime, the majority of assaults perpetrated by non-Native men.  (2009 Amnesty International Report)I hadn’t read any books by the author, but this title, which is a birthday gift from a dear friend,  has assured me that I am in for further rich reading about the Native American people through the many novels she has written.

IN ONE ERA & OUT THE OTHER by Sam Levenson

I have a distinct recollection of reading this book in 1974 while riding on the Sheppard Ave bus . Early in the book, humourist, Sam Levenson describes his experiences as a school teacher and it spurred me on to apply to the Faculty of Eduction University of Toronto to become a teacher. The rest of history. I re-ordered the book from Amazon and re-read it on Christmas Day 2020.  Levenson’s writing made me laugh, especially his observations of Jewish family life.  Mother: “I’m going to visit the neighbour’s for a minute. Make sure you stir the chicken soup every 30 minutes”. Father: “Next time I take you any place I’m gonna leave you home.” Humour a la David Sedaris, Jerry Seinfeld, Neil Simon that I love.

“IS THIS ANYTHING?” by Jerry Seinfeld

The title questions is what every comedian says to other comedian when. they want to try out new bits. Jerry Seinfeld has dug into the files of stand-up material and is divided into sections that cover the past 4 decades (the final chapter archives routines from the last 5 years).  Each transcript  as a title, and most take up less than 3 pages in double-space format. I love this stuff. Funny observation s scrutinize the ordinary and give meaning to what seems to be the ordinary with Seinfeld’s razor-sharp wit. (e.g. Cotton Balls, Airplane Bathrooms, Doctor’s Waiting Room, Marriage Chess, Lip Liner, Coffee Break).Having been a fan of the sitcom, Jerry Seinfeld’s voice and mannerisms jumped off every line of the shticks presented here. This book kept me company as U.S. election results unfold.  Great to have a funny book, a funny man to keep you company in these wonky times. Loved it!

HOW TO PRONOUNCE KNIFE by Souvankham Thammavongsa (Short Stories)

Winner of the Giller Prize 2020.  Poignant narratives floating around the immigrant experience. I liked every story in this anthology. Precise crafted writing. Deserved of the award.

NEW PICTURE BOOKS

Sure wish I had a classroom of kids to share some of these fine picture books with. Most are 2020 titles and I’m placing bets that at least one of these will win picture book awards.  Each book is like a great walk through an art gallery. Three titles get shout outs from Dr. Larry. 

 

IF YOU CAME TO EARTH by Sophie Blackall

How might you explain the wonders of the world to someone from another planet? What might you tell them about cities,town villages; the homes we live in; our families; our friends; weather, emotions, occupations, school, celebrations, oceans, rivers, seas…

“The book is a call for us to take care of both Earth and each other.” (jacket blurb)

The opening statements from this picture book can inspire writers at all grade levels.
DEAR VISITOR FROM OUTER SPACE,
IF YOU CAME TO EARTH, HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW.

ALL BECAUSE YOU MATTER by Tami Charles; illus. Bryan Collier

Hope and affirmation of black identity presented in lyrical verses and acoompanied by vivid paintings by masterful artist Bryan Collier.

On the night you were born, /stars sprayed across the sky, /each one full of
light,
hope,
love,
and all the moments in your life that would matter…

YOUR PLACE IN THE UNIVERSE by Jason Chin

A beautiful specimen of a nonfiction picture book that has readers wondering and learning about the immensity of the universe. This book is filled with scientific facts and fascination with scale. (‘e.g., Scientists believe there are trillions of comets beyond the Kuiper Best. The farthest of these could be 100,000 times farther from the Sun than the Earth is’. / ‘The Edge of Space is around 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level’.Any reader intrigued with Space – and with big numbers – will be intrigued by the abundance of information that appears throughout (including an informative appendix). Note: Metric numbers are provided throughout. 

HUNDRED: What You Learn In a Lifetime by Helke Faller; illus. Valerio Vidali (2017)

This book (not necessarily a book for children), examines life from age 0 to 100. Each of the 100 items makes a philosophical  (8: ‘You get braver with every step.’) or asks a philosophical question (45: ‘Do you like yourself the way you are?’).  There are many universal truths in Faller’s survey of a long life.  And whether we’ve experienced the life events celebrated, adult readers can reflect  and consider the big question ; “What have you learned from life?” The draw for me was the art by Valerio Vidali who illustrated the new English publication of Gianni Rodari’s Telephone Tales. I’d sure love to write a book that Vidali could illustrated. 

B ON YOUR THUMB by Colette Hiller and Tor Freeman

This is a collection of 60 poems to boost reading and spelling. Each rhyme teaches a particular lesson by tackling tricky spellings.  Essential letter  sounds or letter combinations  are indicated with the use of Upper Case and/or colour font.  The authors `ell us that there are ditties (good choice of word) for young children learning to master letter sounds and  as well as poems that are examples of spelling patterns or tricky spellings.  

A  Very Short Lesson

Here’s the lesson for today:

A + Y = ay.

That is all I have to say.

Lessons over. Go away.

RAVEN, RABBIT, DEER by Sue Farrell Holler; illus. Jennifer Faria

A gentle and  cozy book about  a young boy’s outing with his grandfather along a snowy forest trail.  The boy enjoys teaching his grandfather about the joys of playing in the snow and the grandfather enjoys pointing out the tracks of animals that they encounter along the way, naming raven, rabbit and deer in both English and Ojibwemowin. A warm intergenerational story on chilly winter’s venture from Canadian author Sue Farrell Holler. 

I PROMISE by LeBron James

Inspired by the NBA chanpion’s I PROMISE School in Akron Ohio, readers are encouraged to think about how success starts with the and that they need to “promise’  to reach their full potential. “I promise to work hard and do what’s right, to be a leader in this game of life.” NOTE: Each page features a group of young children enjoying their time at school. On the final spread, nine children climb and play all around the words I PROMISE. Only one of these children appears to be Caucasian. We’ve come a long way in the world of picture books.  Just sayin’.

WHAT WE’LL BUILD: Plans For Our Together Future by Oliver Jeffers

Jeffers seldom disappoints. This is a tribute to a father and daughter, spending special time together to build a home of safety, warmth and love.  Told in simple couplet rhymes (often assonant rhymes) (i.e., ‘I’ll build your future and you’ll build mine/We’ll build a watch to keep our time.’). A book filled with optimism and love and wonderful wonderful art (of course!)

THE MUSEUM OF ME by Emma Lewis (2016)

A visit (and a celebration) to all kinds of museums and the different exhibits we can experience. I was hoping the book would be more like visual images of  the ‘me museum’ (like: My Map Book).  It’s not until we arrive at the last page that we have images that represent the girl’s life.

WHEN THE WORLD WENT QUIET by Tia Martina; illus Kelly Ulrich

When the Global Pandemic hit, people were stuck inside and the world went quiet. This book, told in rhyme, describes how animals returned to more free existence throughout the world. The book helps us ” to focus on the preservation of wilderness and the protection of wildlife”.  (‘Giant elephants wandered slowly foraging for tasty treats/ Where they were joined by the spotted civet on India’s empty streets.’ )

YOU MATTER by Christian Robinson

Christian Robinson won the Caldecott Honor and Newbery Medal awards both for Last Stop on Market Street written by Matt de la Pena. This book is told in simple text and vivid illustrations to help students know that they matterr… whether they swim with the tide, or not; If they fall down and have to start over again; if they feel lost and alone; old or young’ big or small; first or last.

OUTSIDE IN by Deborah Underwood; illus. Cindy Derby

Pondering: When Deborah Underwood wrote the draft of this picture book, did she know that in 2020, much of the world would be ‘stuck inside’.  In simple, lyrical text, the author pays worship to the beautiful sights sounds and smells of things outside our windows (e,g., Outside sings to us with chirps/ and rustles/ and taps-taps on the roof). The mighty watercolour images, sometimes expressionistic,  by artist Cindy Derby support and strengthen Underwood’s words. This is one of the best picture books of the year – and for the year.

THE WANDERER by Peter Van Den Ende

This is a WOW! picture book artifact. The  artist spent several years to create the black and white spreads for this wordless picture book. The real and surreal images of ocean life and beyond are astonishing. Readers who choose to gaze slowly at the illustration on  each page will wonder,  ‘How did he do that?’  The story: A small paper boat is set out to sea and quietly and bravely carries on despite monumental encounters with extraordinary creatures of land, sea and air, gigantic ships, and heavenly skies.  The interpretation of the narrative and symbols is left totally up to the reader. Picture book artist Shaun Tan declares this book to be “wonderfully strange and strangely wonderful.” Awesome indeed! 

MIDDLE YEARS BOOKS: December 2020

I finished off this year, reading some terrific terrific 2020 novels for middle years readers. I have a hunch a few of these titles will appear on many end-of-the-year top ten lists. I have a hunch there are awards awaiting some titles within this list. I’ve highlighted some SHOUT-OUTs in pink font.  I have a pile of YA novels staring at me.. .but I am eager to dig into some grown-up reads to start of 2021. 

 

FIGHTING WORDS by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Life for ten-year old Della and her teenager sister has not been good. Their mother is now in jail after blowing up a hotel room making meth. They have been tormented by a man their mother has left behind. Both girls end up living in a Foster Home. They take nothing for granted and  hope that one day life will get better.  Della has always relied on Suki for care, protection and hope. Suki has dark secrets that demonize her. When Suki tries to commit suicide the girls lives turn upside down. It’s time to take stand up and speak up.. To have a middle age novel about child sexual abuse is brave and important. This compassionate novel serves as a guide to what it means to be resilient and how we can overcome dark times. The author’s note: “The first thing I want you to know is, it happened to me.” 

A PLACE AT THE TABLE by Sadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan.

Sara is a Pakistani girl who arrives at a new middle school and is uncomfortable about meeting making friends. Elizabeth, Jewish girl,  has friendship problems, the fickleness of girl loyalties. Sara’s mother is struggling to make ends meet and establishes a cooking business. Elizabeth’s mother is saddened by the recent death of her mother in the United Kingdom. Both Sara’s  mother and Elizabeth’s mother need to pass the test to become American citizens. An after-school cooking class (led by Sara’s mother) bring the two girls together and a friendship is strengthened by the possibility of winning a spot ona local food show. by creating a cross cultural dish together (Halwa Cuppa Tea (Pakistani Halwa and British Earl Grey tea).  This is an engaging story about friendships, family, and food. It is also about story about cultures joining together amidst the shadows of racism. A worthy contribution to books about cultural diversity that many students will likely identify with. The novel, written by two authors is presented in chapters that alternate the voices of the two main characters, Elizabeth and Sara.

THE SILVER ARROW by Lev Grossman

Kate is bored and writes a note to her uncle – her very rich uncle – asking for a birthday present. Careful what you wish for, Kate, cuz she finds herself the recipient of a train – a real train, The Silver Arrow. Kate and her brother hop aboard the train which takes them on thrilling adventures through forests, under the ocean, up in the sky. Along the way, the passengers who join in the travesl are animals from around the world: a porcupine, a mangrove snake, a heron, a polar bear and a pangolin (the only mammal with scales).  In the end (or about 3/4 way through) we learn the reason for the gathering of this menagerie… to protect animals from extinction brought on by human behaviour.  Lev Grossman tells a great story that holds a terrific appeal for readers, ages 9-11 who like fantasy adventures., books with fairly short chapters and black and white illustrations that help to bring reality to fantasy.   Spoiler: although there is a ‘no place like home’ endingI don’t think this is the last of ,Kate,Tom and The Silver Arrow

LUPE WONG WON’T DANCE by Donna Barba Higuera

7th Grader, Lupe Wong is a fighter. And an activist. Her mission is to eliminate Square Dancing from the Physical Education program because it’s archaic, discriminatory, and embarrassing. Lupe’s daily problems are part of the world of young adolescents, especially the fickle loyalty of friendships. But Lupe is determined to raise her voice for what she believes is right and throughout the book finds ways to convince her gym teacher and her principal that things need to change.  She also has her eyes set on a goal on becoming a the famous pitcher in the Major Leagues, just like Fu LI Hernandez, who like her is Chinacan/ Mexinese.  Spoiler alert: tall gets well-solved with a happy ending. Readers will root for – and perhaps identify with – this feisty, funny character.

SHOW ME A SIGN by Ann Clare LeZotte

From 1640 through the late 1800’s, hereditary deafness was common on Martha’s Vineyard, especially in the town of Chilimark, where at one time, one in twenty-five residents was born deaf.  Le Zotte is a deaf librarian and with this novel she describes a world of the past (1805)  set on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard. Mary is grieving for the loss of her older brother who was killed in an accident. When a stranger arrives in the community, Mary’s world shifts. The young scientist hopes to learn more about the mystery of the island’s prevalent deafness. The book is divided into two parts and the second half is brings danger to Mary’s life after she has been kidnapped to be used as a research specimen. This is a story that illuminates the deaf experience for readers. Many Deaf readers will likely identify with Mary’s plight. LeZotte has strong storytelling skills as she examines grief, cultural clashes, racism and intolerance. This is a special book. 

CHIRP By Kate Messner

This one is about a cricket farm (and sexual harassment). Mia and her family return to live in Vermont and she is determined to saver her grandma’s cricket busy (they’re delicious and healthy too) and when she learns that there is a plot underway she gets the help of her new friends to find out who is trying to destroy the farm.  After 100 pages, we learn that Mia is also keeping a secret about a former gymnastic trainer who gave her inappropriate hugs and massages.  The cricket story is intriguing, the makerspace camp that Mia attends is very current, and the harassment story is drawn from contemporary news stories.  A good read. 

THE MAGIC FISH by Trung Le Nguyen (graphic novel)

Tien’s parents are refugees and he can’t seem to find the right words to tell them that he is gay.  Three fairy tales (The German “Allerleiruah” and the Vietnamese “Ta m Cam”, two versions of Cinderella and a version of “The Little Mermaid” )help Tien to navigate the world. The author is a remarkable artist and this is his first graphic novel. Graphic stories stimulate readers to make inferences (the narrative between the panels, the reliaistie on narrative captions, making-meaning through visuals) and for me this book falls short on clear storytelling. I wasn’t wasn’t always sure who the characters were (and how old they were), and I there seemed to be gaps in what was happening in each of the three folktales. Stronger use of narrative captions might have helped. But as a coming-out story of a Vietnamese boy, The Magic Fish is autographical and might help some young adolescents contemplate their own sexual identities. 

BECOMING MUHAMMAD ALI by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander (biographical novel) 

Before he was Muhammad Ali, he was Cassius Clay and two mighty authors have joined together to create this astonishing fictional biography. Recount from Cassius Clay’s early life is told in the first person as poetry (Alexander) and in third person narratives from the point of view of Clay’s best friend, Lucas,  Lucky for short (Patterson).  Full page black and white illustrations are interspersed throughout the book, which is divided into ten sections (ten rounds). But there is something more to this fine book than the story of perseverance and confidence of this athletic hero who knew he would become The Greatest. This is a story that celebrates Blackness and heightens awareness that Blackness means going through the world differently from white counterparts. From the New York Times review, November 8, 2020, “It is my hope that Black children read this book, see themselves in young Clay and know that they too are poetry made flesh.”  This is a fantastic book and it is my hope that readers of all races immerse themselves in Cassius Clay’s growing-up tale of family and friends and school and infatuation and a tale of fierce determination to rise against all odds.  James Patterson is a  great author, Kwame Alexander is a great poet  who pay tribute to Muhammad Ali, The Greatest. This is one of the greatest books for middle years readers this year.

LORETTA LITTLE LOOKS BACK: Three Voices Go Tell it by Andrea Davis Pinkney; illus. Brian Pinkney

What a mighty mighty book this is! The story spans three generations from the cotton fields (1927) to the presidential election (1968). Andrea’s brilliant text includes first-person narratives, spoken-word poems, folk myths and gospel rhythms and her husband’s rhythmic, dream-like black and white illustrations introducing each section throughout add extra power to powerful narratives. Each of the three young members of the Little Family tell the story of their generation through monologues that  together paint a vivid tapestry of Americas struggle for civil rights. In the afterward, Andrea Pinkney writes “It is a novel with the intention of inviting readers to step in the shoes of characters and to experience history through the eyes of those whose life and time represent the resilience of people.” (p. 256). This is exquisite, deep writing of history, injustice, perseverance – and racism and certainly at the top  of the list of great books for the year 2020 – and not just those written in the children’s literature cannon. The preface to this novel advises us “How To Read This Book”.  With conviction/ With attitude / With feeling / With friends.

MY LIFE IS AN ICE CREAM SANDWICH by Ibi Zoboi

It is 1984 and Ebony-Grace Norfleet is obsessed with, consumed with outer-space adventures. She is determined that she will be an astronaut when she grows up.  The story takes place in Harlem where Ebony-Grace comes to life with her divorced father while her mother back in Alabama deals with troubles with Ebony-Grace’s grandfather, who was once of the first Black engineers to integrate NASA in the 1960’s. Urban life in Harlem opens the daughters eyes  and ears to Hip-Hop, break dancing competitions, graffiti and the fickleness of friendships and the attitudes of ‘nefarious minions’. Devoted to all things Star Trek, Ebony Grace believes that she is really Cadet E-Grace Starfleet of theMothership Uhura. Ebony-Grace lives in her ‘imagination location’. Why can’t the rest of the world join in her believing in the world beyond? Realistic fiction blends with sci-fantasy in a book that shines a light on a strong black girl who wants “to boldly go where no girl has gone before.”Graphic pages appear throughout the book. 

Nonfiction

THE MISSING: The True Story of My Family in World War II by Michael Rosen 

British author, Michael Rosen knew nothing about his six great-aunts and great uncles who presumedly died in concentration camps. Rosen embarks on an investigative journey (online searches, books, interviews) to gain some truths about his family who had been living in Poland and France at the beginning of the war. Slowly, slowly the author learns of his family history and details emerge. More than a memoir, this book provides readers with a concise history of European Jews caught within Nazi terror. Poems excerpts from Rosen’s previously published anthologies  are spread throughout the book.  (‘People run away from war. Sometimes they get away. /Sometimes we don’t. / Sometimes were’ helped. /Sometimes we aren’t/’ (from People Run).This 94-page book is a gem. 

 

YA FICTION: Fall 2020

There are ten books listed here.  Each of these stories reveal the tensions and struggles of adolescent characters being true to themselves their convictions and their dreams. Any two of these titles could be matched up not only because the protagonists might have something in common with each other, but each bring meaning to the word ‘resilience’.   Three titles are centred around characters in prison, each falsely accused of crimes they did not commit. Three titles feature Black characters.  Three titles deal with classism.  Three titles are sequels.  All titles deserve 4 stars. And how exciting to be able to post a list that has new titles by three favourite CANADIAN authors (Deborah Ellis, Heather Smith, Eric Walters). One title is a poetry anthology gem by Naomi Shihab Nye.

 

CLASS ACT by Jerry Craft 

BE KIND / BE FAIR/ BE YOU are the opening words that greet readers to this companion book to Newbery Medal winning book New Kid.  The setting is the prestigious Riverdale Academy Day School, and the central Black characters Drew and Jordan feel pressures mount as they come to feel isolated amongst his privileged classmates. A visit to their friend Liam’s ‘mansion’ forces Drew and Jordan to see the divide and things come to a head when the school establishes the SOCK committee (Students of Color Konnect). Drew worries, “Everyone is always so confused… No one is happy just being who they are./ It’s like we all have the way we want people to think we are…/ And then we have our real selves.”  This 13 chapters in this book could easily be transformed into 13 episodes of a television series about black adolescent lives, about class, opportunities and pressure to pretend that everything is just fine. Another excellent title that many African American  students will identify with and non-black students will grow from in order to be kind, be fair and be you.

IN THE KEY OF NIRA GHANI by Natasha Deen 

Nira is  “the kid pulling down A’s, and who wants a little freedom to be who she wants to be.” (p. 270)Nira Ghani has dreams of having a career playing the trumpet. Her talent and dedication indicate that she is on the way tao fulfilling her dream. But Nira is a brown girl living in a Guyanese family and her parents have different dreams for their smart daughter “The number one rule is to obey your elders. The number two rule is to check your individuality at the door.”(p. 72) She will go to university and become an important doctor. Many adolescents who feel pressured by being smothered by their parents expectations will identify with Nira.  Many readers who struggle to navigate true friendships or a budding romance or find a place in the world will identify with Nira. Many readers will find a strong fictional model who is true to her convictions. And many will find comfort in the cups of tea served by Grandmother Ghani.  This novel is the recent winner the Amy Mathers Award for Young Adults (TD book awards). 

THE GREATS by Deborah Ellis

This novel is about Jomon, a  troubled youth in Guyana , who because of a neglectful father, and the death of his mother,  doesn’t seem to think that life is worth living.  One night, after winning a school competition, he runs through the streets of Georgetown, crashing a liquor-store window. He is caught, put in jail and further questions ‘what’s it all about’.  Throughout the story, Jomon encounters ghostly ancestors, each who had committed suicide and who appear to tell their stories and give Jomon strength. The appearance of a Megatherium (a giant  sloth) who escaped from the Museum adds a  dimension of mystery and perseverance to the story. But this book is more than a story about a desperate teenager. Deborah Ellis brilliantly weaves in narrative of A troubled teenager, a prehistoric sloth, ghostly grandfathers to help readers gain understanding of suicide and mental health. Royalties from teh sale of The Greats will be donated to Mental Health Without Borders. 

EVERY BODY LOOKING by Candice Iloh

The author, mentored by Jason Reynolds has given Young Adolescent readers an emotional coming of age story, that is well-crafted in free verse style. Ada lives under the thumb of her Nigerian family’s expectations but is desperate to make her own life choices, especially as a new student at historically Black college. Chapters take us through Ada’s journey as a freshman and sporadically includes events from her life in grade school experiences are woven throughout. Most poems appear as one page and the format seems to strengthen the contemplative introspective nature of the character. “How am I supposed /to know who I am /I don’t really know where /I’m going but I’m trying to figure it out.” Ada is not a happy person, mostly because she can’t be true to herself (as a lesbian) and her dreams (as a dancer). In the acknowledgements, Candice Iloh sends a message to her readers: “Thank you for constantly reminding me of the kids in all of us who just want to be felt, heard, seen, loved and supported.”

EVERYTHING COMES NEXT: Collected and New Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye (Poetry)

A treasury of over 150 poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, “an open-hearted singer who believes in poetry’s verbal power to bring us together and care for each other, to recognize our sorrows and our sufferings, to heal our wounds and treasure our solituteds. She is one of our necessary poets of hopefulness’ (from the preface by Edward Hirsch, p. 5). The anthology is divided into three sections: The Holy Land of Childhood; The Holy Land That Isn’t; People Are The Only Holy Land

Excerpt from “Valentine for Ernest Man”

          poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,

           they are sleeping. They are the shadows

           drifting across our ceilings the moment

           before we wake up. What we have to do

           is live in a. way that lets us find them. 

BARRY SQUIRES: FULL TILT by Heather Smith (death loss and remembrance) (YA)What a character Finbar Barry Squires is, the kind of guy who unnerves parents and teachers because of his temper but endears himself to them too because if his wise, witty way with words.. After watching the Riverdance video twice Barry has a dream to gain fame by joining The Full Tilt Irish Stepdancers, famous throughout St. John’s. The book is funny, not only because of Barry’s rascally irreverent ways but by the cast of characters he encounters (a caring grandma, the school principal, an old British Rocker named Uneven Steven, a gang of geriatrics in the local nursing home and great friend named Saibal and an adorable baby brother named Gord. This was a book that made me laugh out loud but take caution, Smith punches you in the heart with a tragic event in the family. This novel has excited me to a) read any new Heather Smith publication as soon as it comes out b) take another trip to St. John’s Newfoundland.

DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone

Nic Stone’s powerful book Dear Martin tells the story of an Ivy-League black student named Justyce who becomes a victim of racial profiling. In this sequel, Justyce McAllister is at Yale University, while Quan Laquan Banks who grew up in the same areas as Justyce, sits behind bars in a youth detention centre, detained for a crime he didn’t commit. Quan has experienced family troubles, and is caught in a web where a policeman is killed by a gun with Quan’s prints on it. Once again, Stone, illuminates racism in America flawed practices of the American Juvenile system as the character reflects on what he could have done, should have done, and will do in the future.  The book, which certainly could be read as a standalone,  features multi-modal text formats – letters, narratives, transcripts, free verse poetry and chapter structure add to the dynamism of Stone’s style.  This is a novel for today – and tomorrow!

THE KING OF JAM SANDWICHES by Eric Walters

Eric Walters tells us that many of the things he’s written about are from his life. His most recent novel, seems to be one of the most personal.  In the opening chapter, Robbie’s father awakens his son in the middle of the night and claims that he is dying. But thirteen-year-old Robbie is used to his father’s neurotic ramblings but still wonders what will happen to him, if his father does leave him (Robbie’s mother died when he was young).  Chapter One invites readers to cheer for Robbie, hoping that he’ll come through a life of poverty and a life of being alone when his father  has been known to disappear for days. Enter Harmony, a saucy girl, a foster child, who enters Robbie’s classroom and Robbie’s life. Readers cheer on their friendship and their reliance on each other. I mauy be wrong, but I think, Walters uses more dialogue in this novel than his previous books and through these conversations we come to know about true friendship, about resilience and hope.  Another terrific novel from Canadian children’s literature hero. 

PUNCHING THE AIR by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (of the Exonerated Five) (Free Verse)

Amal Shahid has been wrongfully incarcerated for throwing a punch now sits in jail, filled with despair and rage. A white boy lies unconscious in a hospital and a white court is building a case for what they ‘think’ occurred.  Add Punching The Air to  the list of strong recent novels  about racial profiling (e.g, The Hate You Give; All American Boys, Dear Justyce, Ghost Boys).  Poetry and Art bring Amal some salvation and for readers, Zoboi’s lyrical verse, inside-the-head thoughts add punch to a hard-hitting story of our times. Zoboi was fortunate to pair up with Yusef Sallam who at fifteen-years sold was wrongly convicted with four other boys in he Central Park jogging case. In 2002, their sentences were overturned.  This novel is not fictional biography but Salaam contributes truth and hip-hop poems and inspiration of how art can inspire and perhaps comfort. 

 

SHOUT OUT

LONG WAY DOWN by Jason Reynolds; Art by Danica Novgorodoff (graphic novel)

In 2017, Jason Reynolds wrote an explosive free verse novel where events take place over sixty seconds when Will Holman ride down in an elevator, on his way to take revenge for the murder of his brother. On each of the seven floors on the ride going down, Will encounters ghosts from the past who challenge him to question whether he should use the gun hiding in his pants to be another teenage  ‘killer’.  When it was first published, the book deservedly won a batch of awards. This new publication is a graphic adaptation of the original Long Way Down. Imagine a graphic novel with free verse narrative. Danic Novgordodoff has created explosive expressionist images to bring new powerful meaning to Reynolds’ narrative.  This is a staggering publication, worthy of  awards. Astonishing!

 
CANADIAN CHILDREN’ BOOK CENTRE: TD BOOK AWARDS
 
Announced on October 30, 2020
 
 

MIDDLE YEARS BOOKS: Fall 2020

After reading a review in the New York Times, I acquired some novels set in World War II, each book immersing readers into this period in history and the effect it had on families. Other titles listed below are centred on such topics as poverty,  death loss and remembrance, mental health and activism. One book is a memoir by celebrated author Uri Shulevitz.   And for fun… another  ‘worst’ book from raucous David Walliams. 

 

SET IN WORLD WAR II

 

RIP TO THE RESCUE by Miriam Halamy

This story is set during the London Blitz during World War II telling a story of search and rescue dog and a brave thirteen-year-old, Jack,  was determined to to his part of the country by becoming a bike messenger for fire crews. The story celebrates the life of Rip, the rescue dog, who was able to sense people buried alive under rubble. and was responsible for saving the ives of more than a hundred people buried alive after bomb raids. The author has readers become part in the destruction of war under Nazi invasion as they learn about the turmoil and bravery of those who were fought to survive from day to day and cheer for dog and teenager who always puta forth a brave effort.

THE SUMMER WE FOUND THE BABY by Amy Heist

The setting is a beach in Long Island. Eleven-year-old Julie has found a baby on the steps of the library.  Her six-year-old sister, joins in the adventure. Twelve-year old Bruno, who’s brother Ben has gone off to war, gets through each summer day partaking in normal routines, but strongly about his brother and war time. The book is told  different voices with each chapter’s narrative told chronologically from Julia, Martha and Bruno’s point of voices.  Although the discovery of the baby sets the story in action, the narrative seems to divert for much of the novel from the mystery of the baby’s abandonment. Not until the final episodes do we learn the truth, but in the meanwhile we enjoy the summer holiday, with the opening of a new children’s library, ice cream treats, a visit from a person of significance and letters sent during across the ocean. We also have a story about family and friends who carry-on while loved-ones have gone to fight for their country.

THE BRUSHMAKER’S DAUGHTER by Kathy Kacer

This is a Holocaust Remembrance Book for Young Readers inspired by a true story.  Afraid  being arrested and put in prioson,m Lillian and her Papa, who is blind  are trying to escape from Nazi soldiers. When an opportunity arises for these two Jewish figures to work in Mr. Otto Weidt’s brush factory they are temporarily saved from Gestapo threats. Weidt sympathized with the plight of Jewish citizens and employed deaf and blind Jewish works to create brushes (brooms, toothbrushes, shoe polishers) which were used by the Nazis. Kacer has done her research (of course) by visiting the museum of Weidt’s factory in Berlin and uses her narrative talents to tell a gripping, emotional story.

WAR STORIES by Gordon Korman

Trevor is in awe of his grandfather an the part he played in WW II. Trevor, his father and his GG (Great grandfather, Jacob) embark on a trip to Europe so that Jacob can not only to retrace the steps and missions he encountered during the war but also to receive a medal of heroism from the French village he has said to have saved. The novel is told in alternating narratives, set in 2020 or 1944. Kudos to Gordon Korman for the in-depth research he undertook to put STORY into the hiSTORY of events that took place 75 years ago. The premise and details of this novel puts readers inside the turmoil of war. Mr. Korman, you are a great author.

ON THE HORIZON by Lois Lowry (poetry)

Drawn from the author’s early childhood memories and drawing on stories of real people at Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, the author paints vivid vignettes of World War II. Most poems (some rhymed) are only one page in length, each telling a story and getting to the heart of loss, heroism and connection.  Kenard Pak’s black and white illustrations provide a portrait and a mirror to Lowry’s words. An exquisite book.

We played and giggled: Calm, serene.

And there behind us – slow, unseen -0

Arizona, a great gray tomb,

CHANCE: Escape from the Holocaust by Uri Shulevitz (memoir)

Uri Shulevitz is a celebrated author and illustrator ( How I Learned Geography, One Monday Morning, Dawn, 1969 Caldecott Medal Winner for The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship).  His most recent publication, Chance,  conveys harrrowing memories of a refugee childhood, when his family was forced to flee Poland  and survive precariously in the Soviet Union. True personal testimonies of war time experiences often astound readers.   How does a young boy struggle with the pains of extreme hunger? How does a family cope by living in compact quarters, escaping  on a train without any legitimate tickets. lie to authorities in order to survive, find jobs that provide pittance wages to barely pay for food? Shulevitz’s stories told in short episodic chapters accompanied by stark, expressionist drawings and some photographs vividly make wartime survival events a reality challenging us to think about the human need to persevere and the life and death turn-of-events left to Chance. This extraordinary autobiography,  is not only a book of survival, but it is a document of  the author’s awakening as an artist, and a publication from a man, now in his 90’s, who has taken the opportunity  to document and commemorate his family’s stories.

 

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CANADIAN CHILDREN’S BOOK NEWS, Teaching the Holocaust, Fall 2020

The newest issue of Canadian Children’s Book News (Fall 2020, Vol 43. No. 30) pays tribute to the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz,  Articles include a profile piece on Kathy Kacer, “The Emotional Impasct of Researching and Writing about the Holocaust” by Heather Camlot and and article I wrote entitled “Canadian Children’s Literature as a Stepping-Stone to Understanding the Holocaust”. This issue provides a rich overview of picture book, fiction and nonfiction titles that do Canada proud as a resource for Holocaust literature. Congrats to Shannon Barnes for a job well done as editor of this fine issue.

“Remember this. Every time you remember this history, and every time you talk about it, you are honouring someone who lived and possibly perished during that time. You are giving meaning to their lives. And that is a remarkable thing.”

~ Kathy Kacer in Teaching ToughTopics, 2020, p. 69

 

OTHER TITLES

 

ISAIAH DUNN IS MY HERO by Kelly J. Baptist (poverty, mental health)

Ten-year-old Isaiah Dunn is living a sad life. After his father dies, his mother turns to the bottle to deal with her grief. When the family is forced to live in a motel, Isaiah is in despair.  He is determined to make money so that his mother and younger sister can have a place to call home.  Admiring his father’s talent for writing in notebooks,  Isaiah tries to follow in his footsteps. Writing poetry is his Isaiah’s salvation.  This is a strong story about living in poverty, dealing with loss and trying to rise above it all and a story of a young boy being a hero to family, friends, and to himself.

OUR CORNER STORE by Robert Hedibreder; illustrations by Chelsea O’Byrne (verse novel)

Do you remember the store on the corner where you used to buy milk and candy? Heidbreder’s book celebrates the store (whether on the corner or not) that is a part of, the heart of a community. Remembrances of Trick or Treating, cookie jars, piggy banks, a big store freeze, the store cat are illuminated through verse poems that tell of the the adventures of a brother and sister who look forwarded to frequent trips to Mr. And Mrs. Stanstone’s corner store.  A book of poem stories to inspire our own stories.

SAUCY by Cynthia Kadohata; illustrated by Marianna Raskin

Eleven-year-old Becca is one of four quadruplets (she’s the only girl).  Becca feels that she is the only one in the family who isn’t good at anything, until her family, out on a neighbourhood walk, discover a sickly piglet on the side of the road. Becca is determined  to  nurse the saucy pig back to care, but little pigs grow into big pigs and even though Saucy endears herself to the family, she does cause mischief, destroying the garden, the kitchen furniture and the living room curtains. Becca knows that one day she will have to turn over her pet pig to a nearby sanctuary. When she and her brothers discover a farm factory where pigs are treated terribly, Becca embarks on a mission to rescue other piglets. Becca has found a place of belonging and importance through pigs. A heartwarming illustrated novel about  taking care of pets and pets taking care of us. Saucy sure is ‘some pig!’

BADGER AND SKUNK by Amy Timberlake; illus. Jon Klassen

Frog and Toad, The Wind in the Willows Gang and odd-couple ,Felix and Oscar ,can find descendants in Skunk and Badger two animals, each set in his own way, who end up as roommates in a brownstone home. Badger is a serious rock scientist and finds his life completely disrupted when Badger moves bringing with him a cascade, a whirlwind of chickens. An argument and a misunderstanding and skunk spray result in a separation which leaves both characters bereft, longing for companionship and compromise. I was looking forward to this book (the first volume in a series), but if truth be told was somewhat disappointed by the rhythm and what seemed to be choppy narrative. I continually thought of myself reading this book aloud in the classroom (perfect length) but thought student interest might wane as mine did, despite some amusing episodes. I also wondering about the appeal of the book for independent readers grades 3 – 5. I so admire stories with anthropomorphic characters (Abel’s Island, Pax,  and The One and Only Ivan) but this book on first reading didn’t wow me as much as I had hoped. Illustrations by Jon Klassen were a lure for me buying the book, but they didn’t seem to illuminate the accompanying passages they were drawn from.

THE WORLD’s WORST PARENTS by David Walliams (short stories)

Walliams has written three books about the world’s worst children, another book about the world’s worst teacher and now he the world of naughty outrageous, embarrassing through madcap adventures that are naughty, outrageous and embarrassing. (peter Pong the dad with the stinkiest feet in the wold (be prepared to be grossed out); Harriet Hurry, the fastest bicycle rider ont ebokc, Monty Monopolize who gives his twin sons gifts (especially Bricko kits), only to take them away from them so he an play with them. The World’s Worst Parents is just like the previous books in the ‘worst’ series.. and that’s a good thing! Walliams and Tony Ross are a dynamic duo team delighting readers with gross and comical words and pictures. No wonder David Walliams books have sold more than 37 copies worldwide (as of this writing) and I for one look forward to adding a new Walliams title to my bookshelf.

BEFORE THE EVER AFTER by Jacqueline Woodson (physical and mental challenges)

Imagine a novel for middle years readers about  Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) . Imagine a novel about this degenerative brain disease found in athletes and others who have suffered blows to head to be written in free verse format. Imagine that Jacqueline Woodson, author extraordinaire, choosing this subject of brain disease. ZJ’s dad is a football hero adored by millions of sports fans. When he witnesses his father’s mood swings, depression, aggression and memory loss he bravely carries on because of his strong friendships, because of the power of music and because of devotion to his parents  Family  love fills every poem in this novel. Huzzah to Ms Woodson for another gem of a compassionate, human story.

 

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TELEPHONE TALES by Gianni Rodari; illus. Valerio Vidali (Short stories)

This collection of 70 imaginative stories has an interesting history. Gianni Rodari was a popular, Hans Christian Anderson award-winning author, with great fame in his homeland of Italy. Because of Communist Party ties, this masterpiece, first published in Italy in 1962,  never got released, until now,  in the English language in a translation by Antony Shuggar.  As with any short story collection, some narratives may appeal to others but each is spun with adventure, a sense of whimsy and absurdity. I read each story chronologically (most are one or two pages). Vidali’s visual accompaniment for each story are thrilling in their vibrancy and graphic design power along with the cut-pages format that adds surprise to the book. This is a great classroom read aloud (grades 3+ and I highly recommend this title as a read aloud f  Adult and child will surely find their favourites as wonder, curiosity and moral messages are bedtime stimulated. Some intriguing characters:  Giovannino Vagabond the famous explorer who visited the land of men made out of butter,  Tonino the invisible boy, Apollooni wo was able to make the finest jam imaginable from stinging nettles a barber who bought the city of Stockholm for the price of shampoo and a haircut.  Which title will you read first?The Road of Chocolate, Elevator to the Stars, Educational Candy, Monkeys on Holiday, The Nose That Ran Away or The Planet of Truth. It was worth waiting 58 years for the release of this book. Have fun with “Favole all telefono”!

 

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Don't Stand So Close to Me by [Eric Walters]

DON’T STAND SO CLOSE TO ME
by Eric Walters

now available in paperback

How can young people make sense of the COVID-19 epidemic? How will tomorrow’s readers understand what the world lived through in 2020. This book by Canada’s children’s literature hero Eric Walters, reads like a documentary because the. jumps off the pages of today’s news. Walters has his pulse both on world events and the minds and community of young people and with this title he has chosen to illuminate those world events through the minds of a group of grade eight friends. Don’t Stand So Close to Me, is to say the least, a timely read about a time when it was essential to stand alone, stand together. Available on line and in print from ORCA publishers.

 

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THREE KEYS by Kelly Yang

This is a terrific novel. This is an important novel. Three Keys is a sequel to the award-winning book Front Desk which provides a fictional account of the author’s life as a Chinese immigrant and her family’s struggle to find a place of salvation and belonging, which they do in the Calivesta Motel which they have come to own. In this story, set in 1994 Mia and her family and friends are up against the proposed Proposition 187 Bill. intended to prohibit undocumented immigrants from using emergency health care, publication and other services in the State of California. The events certainly resonate with immigration issues and DACA of recent years, where the cry of “Go back to where you came from!”  is hurtful, hateful and wrong. Yang writes: “My biggest hope in writing this book is that it will give people a better understanding of the circumstances facing undocumented immigrants so that we can enact a better policy. Not just hot-button propositions to win elections, but laws that embody the vision and core values of our country.”  Along with Wishtree by Kathrine Applegate, Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj  and other novels about the immigrant and refugee experience we are able to bring world issues and instil students to think about tolerance and acceptance

PICTURE BOOK: Fall 2020

 

Some new (and a few old titles) came my way this September.   Canadian, U.S. and a great British picture books are featured in this list. (Shout out to Pajama Press * for new Fall 2020 titles)

CANADIAN TITLES

 

SHAPE UP, CONSTRUCTION TRUCKS by Victoria Allenby*

The subject of big vehicles, the rhyming verse, bright photographs make this an appealing title for young readers. The bonus learning of the book is the delight in finding geometric shapes hidden among excavators, bulldozers, road signs and cranes. (Crane Crane / coming through! / I spy a square – /How about you!)

WHAT GREW IN LARRY’S GARDEN by Laura Alary; illus. Kass Reich

OK, I don’t grow a garden but still a book with my name in the title is appealing. And Larry is a teacher. Larry is Grace’s neighbour and together they embark upon the pleasures and hard work of growing flowers and plants. This Canadian title was inspired by the story of a teacher and his tomato project where the children in Larry’s class spread seeds of kindness in the community.

SNOW DOVES by Nancy Hartry; illus. Grimard

While snow is piling up, a young girl befriends her new neighour, who does not speak his language.  A story of belonging, kindness and the joy of winter play.

SNOW DAYS by Deborah Kerbel; illus. Miki Sato*

The joys and wonders of winter as seen through the eyes of a small child.  Told in couplets (Second snow sicks around/ Time for angels on the ground with happy , textured three-dimensional illustrations.

TEACHING MRS. MUDDLE by Colleen Nelson; illus. Alice Carter*

It’s the first day of kindergarten and Kayla,  is worried that things won’t fall into place. Her problems are nothing compared to her teacher, Mrs. Muddle who mixes up name tags, takes the children to the wrong classes. and has difficulty finding the bathroom. Kayla, the student, becomes Kayla the teacher and together Mrs, Muddle and her student find comfort in each other. What student hasn’t felt like Kayla? What teacher hasn’t felt like Mrs. Muddle? A school adventure sure to make connections and draw laughter.

THE LIBRARY BUS by Bahram Rahman; illus. Gabrielle Grimard*

Pari, a young girl helps her mother run Kabul’s local library bus for the first  time and learns that opportunities to go to school aren’t the same for everyone. Pari learns to hand out notebooks and pencils at villages and refugee camps and when she learns that Mama  teaches young girls to write in English, she becomes more determined to go to school and learn all there is to know. This is a worthy title to add to books that help students understand social justice, diversity and equity issues

A FAMILY FOR FARU by Anitha Rao-Robinson; illus Karen Patkau*

When Tetenya and his mother find Faru, a baby rhinoceros, they are determined to find rangers who will protect local herds in rhino sanctuaries. Tetanya bravely sets out to  find refuge for Faru and along the way they meet animals of the savannah. This exceptional  picture book is inspired by the work of conservationists and takes readers on a journey into African habitat at the same time as inspiring thoughts about poaching and extinction.

WHAT KIDS DID: Stories of Kindness and Invention in the time of Covid-19 by Erin Silver

Shout out to SECOND STORY press for releasing  up with this up-to-the minute picture book  which shines a lighton the creative thoughtful and kind ways that 25 young people from all around the world helped to make a difference in their communities during the pandemic. Let’s celebrate six-year-old Callaghan who set up a neighbourhood joke stand, ten-year=old Chelsea who sent thousands of art kids to kids in shelters and foster care, and Jorge who printed #-D plastic visors to help health-care workers and Stephen Wamukota of Kenya, who who invented a semi-automatic wooden hand-washing machine.

I TALK LIKE A RIVER by Jordan Scott; illus. Sydney Smith

A moving story about a boy who wakes up each morning with words stuck in the back of his mouth because of a stuttering problem. Drawn from the author’s persona; experiences, the boy receives comfort from his father who says he ‘talks like a river’ ` bubbling, churning, whirling, crashing.  Master illustrator, Sydney Smith, has outdone himself with powerful watercolour images of the boy and the river.

A WORLD OF MINDFULNESS.  by Editors and Illustrators of Pajama Press*

The creative team of A World of Kindness shine a light on the importance of mindfulness practice helping young readers to become mindful citizens by observing their own senses. (The sun is warm on my face. It is millions of miles away, but we are still connected. /I can hear birds and breezes and a dog barking. Even with my eyes closed, I know where I am).

 

U. S.  AND BRITISH AUTHORS

WILD SYMPHONY by Dan Brown

I hesitate to buy books by popular bestselling adult authors who cross over into the world of children’s literature, but this book by Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) takes readers on a musical journey where they Maestro Mouse introduces them to a menagerie of animals that includes Woodland birds squawking, tweeting, cooing and cheeping, s boar twirling and dancing about with chasing butterflies, an eager elephant (Ta ta-da! Ta ta-de!), Bouncing kangaroos (Ka-boing! Ka-boing) and a wondrous whale who can do a wondrous thing underwater – he can sing! Readers can listen to music while they read the book or scan a QR. to download a free app to listen to wild symphony accompaniment to each of the 20 joyous poems. Maybe a bit too overloaded, but withhappy Animals, puzzle surprises, coded messages, orchestral movements, rhythmic  poetry, amusing adventures, lively illustrations…Wild Symphony is a picture book treasure, guaranteed to be on Children’s Books top ten lists for years to come.   Great that Dan Brown is able to honour his parents who were musicians and teachers and brought music to the authors life. Hooray that Dan Brown is donating all US royalties due to him to support music education for children worldwide. I’m glad I bought it and look forward to gifting this unique book many times.

TEACH US YOUR NAME by Huda Essa; illus. Daina Cococaru

Her name, Kareema-lay-yes-seen-a-deen has 20 letters. A grade one girl needs to overcome embarrassment and take pride in her long name that is hard for people to say. When she learns from Grandma Sittee that her name means ‘excellent guidance’ and the young girl realizes she needs to guide others to correctly say her name.  This is a good story to add to my collection of name stories and one that can inspire readers to tell stories of their names and thus significance to their identities.

FROG AND TOAD ARE FRIENDS by Arnold Lobel

This classic title has been in my collection since I began teaching. I succumbed to buying this commemorative edition celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of these two iconic literary friends. Bonus: Author’s notes and sketches appear as an appendix to the book.

CAN I PLAY TOO? by Mo Willems

For a course I’ll be teaching in the fall (Play, Language and Learning), I’ve seeking out titles of picture books centred on child play. Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie stories lead the pack. In this story, best frends, Gerald and Piggie meet a new friend, Snake who wants to join them in a game of catch, but can a snake play catch. A story of playing, problem-solving, and considering inclusion. Another ‘perfect’ Willems title.

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I AM EVERY GOOD THING by Derrick Barnes; illus. Gordon C. James

The creators of award-winning titleCrown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut celebrate and uniqueness  and contemplation of spefial things that make you, you. The poem is told  through the eyes of  Young Afro-American boy is a nonstop ball of energy. / Poweful and full of light. I am a go getter. A difference maker. A leader. This is a must-read source for any teacher who wants to inspire students to write their own “I Am…” poems.

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ANIMALPHABET

by Julia Donaldson; Sharon King-Chai

This is the best alphabet book for young readers I’ve come across in recent years. Of course, we’re in the hands of British guru children’s author Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo) but still, the question and answer format and the staggering, colourful art work and cut out pages make this a fine fine picture book specimen that can sit proudly alongside Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle’s Brown Brown Bear, Brown Bear to help build reading power and book love for early readers. I love this book!

Animalphabet
Who has more wrinkles than a hedgehog?

An iguana.

Who is more wobbly than an iguana?

A quail.

Who has…

 

KID LIT: AUGUST READING 2020

The TEN  titles listed below are suggested for recommended for different age levels and include different genres including free verse, chapter book, and nonfiction selections. 

 

LOVE FROM A to Z by S.K. Ali (YA)

This is story, told in alternating chapters presents the relationship between Zayneb, visiting her aunt in Doha, Quatar during March break and Adam who lives nearby with his father and sister. Zayneb is angry (and political) in response to her racist teacher back home in Indiana and Adam is troubled after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. When Zaynab and Adam’s paths cross, they find some solace and connections with each other as they each question their place in the world as Muslim teenagers. That they each record their thoughts in their own MARVEL and ODDITY journals. A warm, thought-provoking story that deals with loss, memory, politics, friendships and falling in love.

LETTERS FROM CUBA by Ruth Behar

Esther’s father has left Poland and is now living in a small Cuban village. He dreams of having his family (mother, wife, three sons, 2 daughters) come to join him. At 12 years of age, Esther persuades her Papa that she should come to live with him. From 1937 – 1939,  Esther writes letters to her younger sister, Malka in which she describes her life in the small community, her new friendships, the struggle she and her father have to save money to pay for her family to join them,  her talent and success at making and selling dresses to locals and to a big department store and the threat. Antisemitism. The letters, never sent, serve as a record of Esther’s growing love of her new home and her dreams of bringing family together. Though fictional, the story is drawn from the author’s family history. A heartfelt book that brings another perspective to both the immigrant experience and to narratives that led to the Holocaust.

DRESS CODED by Carrie Firestone

The principal at Fisher Middle School is ruthless about having a dress code which he strictly enforces – especially for the girls.  Molly Frost and her friends are fed up with this unfair school ‘law’ and creates a podcast where girls tell their stories.  Eventually the grade 8 students take action and form a protest and rebellion so that future students at the school won’t have to deal with this ruling. Even though Molly has a lot to deal with (an out-of-control brother who is addicted to vaping, a school bully, friendship loyalties, she is determined to lead the pack in forming a rebellion with petition, posters and meetings with the Board of Education. The titled chapters are short (1 to 3 pages) and there is a range of text formats including PODCAST transcripts, letters, lists. This is a top-notch, quick-read,  novel that shines  a light on middle school life and inspires students to stand up for what they think is right.

ALL HE KNEW by Helen Frost (free verse)

Henry is a young boy, who can speak but is deaf. The time period is World War II and Henry is sent to sent to an institution because he is labelled ‘unteachable’. Victor, a conscientious objector is hired to work at the institution as part of a Civilian Public Service program alternative to the draft. Unlike others who have treated Henry and his friends harshly, Victor shows kindness to the boys.  When Victor recognizes ability and cleverness in Henry he strives to find hope  and comfort for the boy. Frost’s free verse novel is based on actual events that arose during WWII. This book is recommended for those  fond of free verse style, stories about those with physical challenges and historical fiction presented in poetic style.

DUCK DAYS by Sara Leach; illus.Rebecca Bender (Chapter book)

This is the third book in the series (Slug Days; Penguin Days) that presents the day to day adventures of Lauren, a young girl with Austism Spectrum Disorder. She strives to follow the counsel of her father who tells her to ‘go with the flow’ but when a class adventure of mountain biking day is announced, Lauren is stressed out because she is still using training wheels and worries about the teasing that awaits her. Her friendship with her best friend, Irma,  helps Lauren get through her worries. This is a fine story to help readers understand differences as well an engaging read to grasp themes of frustration, bravery and acceptance. Rebecca Benders’ black and white illustrations appear on every page adding clarity and joy to the narrative.

MANANALAND by Pam Munoz Ryan

Newbery Honour author Ryan tells the story of an 11-year-old Maximiliano Cordoba’s coming of age journey as he takes up family. mission of helping refugees. Maximiliano. living in the fictitious Central American village of Santa Maria longs to solve the mystery of what happened to his mother who disappeared when he was a baby. He eagerly listens to the stories his grandfather tells about the mysterious gatekeeper who leads travelers to a safe haven , a place called Mananaland (Tomorrowland). I am not giving this book as strong a review as it has been receiving. Disclaimer, I couldn’t wrap my head around the sense of fantasy realism  and myths that seemed to interrupt the flow of the narrative but I would certainly  add this piece of fiction  that tell about the plight of refugees  – ‘hidden ones – who are seeking a place of safety.

I’M NOT DYING WITH YOU TONIGHT by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal (YA)

The novel is told in alternating voices: Gena (a Black teenager) and Campbell (a white teenager). The two girls lives first intertwine during a violent outbreak at a school Football game. Althouigh, they have different cultural perspectives to the Black Lives Matters movement,  Lena and Campbell stick together amidst protests and looting that quickly erupt in the city, throughout the night. The two authors take immerse readers into the violence of city protests, thus bringing news events to life. A worthy addition to YA novels that help readers contemplate race relations.

SKY OF BOMB,  SKY OF STARS: A Vietnamese War Orphan Finds Home by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (biography)

This omnibus edition presents two of the author’s award-winning biographies LAST AIRLIFT: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War and ONE STEP AT A TIME: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way. The story document’s eight-year old orphan Tuyet’s rescue from bomb-filled Vietnam and her adaption to life in Canada when when she is adopted by the Morris family. Tuyet’s fiuther resolve is tested when she embarks on corrective surgery for her twisted ankle and a gruelling physiotherapy regime. Together, these two stories recount the biography of a brave, courageous girl, who moved from a sky of bombs, to a sky of stars striving to find a place called home.

YORICK AND BONES by Jeremy Tankard and Hermione Tankard.

Canadian picture book hero, Jeremy Tankard (Grumpy Bird) has created a graphic novel that features a skeleton character named Yorick (yes, that Yorick, you know him well). Together with his daughter Tankard tells an amusing tale about the skeleton, who ‘magically’ is resurrected and hopes to find a true friend to keep him company. A dog named BONES is thrilled to find the Yorick’s bones to chew on and ends up becoming a faithful companion to him. The speech bubbles are mostly given to the voice of Yorick. (Bone’s dialogue hardly ‘says’ anything beyond “Woof! Woof!”). What makes this book unique is the use of iambic pentameter, a tribute to the language of Shakespeare which may , or may not,  appeal to Middle Years readers. (“Whenever my eyes doth open it is dark!/It seems eternity that I have slept;/ So long I nary can recall my past.”)

 

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MARCH: A trilogy by John Lewis with Andrew Aydin; illus. by Nate Powell (graphic biography) / YA

March celebrates, a graphic biography presented in black and white illustrations, celebrates the life of Black U.S. Congressman, John Lewis, committed to justice and nonviolence in fighting for civil rand human rights against Jim Crow laws  The  series recounts Lewis’s early life on a sharecropper Alabama farm to the 1963 March on Washington. Here is a remarkable story of a man who received both countless beatings from state troopers to eventually receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Obama. Book One spans Lewis youth in Alabama, a meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the battle to tear down segregation through lunch counter sit-ins. (March the first title, winner of the four awards for nonfiction literature, is the first  in a trilogy. Book Two features the sit-in campaigns in Nashville, the Freedom Riders mission to combat segregation, and Lewis’s rise at 23 years old  to chairman of the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). Book Three focuses on the March from Selma to Montgomery demonstrate the need for voting rights in the state. State troopers attacked the orderly protestors in a brutal confrontation that became known as ‘Bloody Study’. Media revealed the senseless cuetly of the segregated South which eventually led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

March: Book One by [John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell]

Cover Image