MIDDLE YEARS NOVELS (ages 9-13) : Summer 2020

Some great novels came my way this summer, many written in 2020, many helping to deal with a tough topic.

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate (2020)

This book is a sequel to the award-winning The One and Only Ivan. I welcome any new Applegate and enjoyed reading about the feisty, independent dog, Bob, that we first met in the original story. The book is divided into three parts, where we learn i. about Bob’s life of being a pet, ii. a reunion with Ivan, a silverback gorilla and Ruby, a yound elephant, and iii. the search for his long lost sister. The central part provides the most adventure when a hurricane hits and Bob is involved with the rescue of sanctuary animals. The format (paragraphs are usually only two or three sentences) makes for a breezy read. T Perhaps Applegate was a dog in her previous life. She sure captures the voice , and knows the thoughts, feelings, and dreams of this canine.

STAND ON THE SKY by Erin Bow (2020)

The setting is Mongolia. The characters come from the nomadic Kazakh.  After her brother is injured, Aisulu embarks on the challenge of training an orphaned baby eagle for the annual Eagle Hunt competition. Kudos to Erin Bow who did her research by going live with Mongolian families and investigated encyclopedic information about eagles to help tell her story. Kudos to Erin Bow for presenting some thrilling scenes where characters swiftly ride on open plains, where families come together to care for an animal and each other and where  men – and one young girl – compete in a game where eagles soreThis book is a Governor General Award winner.

WE DREAM OF SPACE by Erin Entrada Kelly (2020)

Time: January 1986. Three central sibling characters CASH (repeating grade 7); FITCH (obsessed with going to the video arcade); BIRD (dreams of becoming NASA’s fist female shuttle commander) A Mom and Dad who always argue. Newbery Award Winner Erin Entrada Kelly writes good books (Hello Universe, You Go First, Lalani and the Distant Sea).  In her newest novel, she tells the storie and describes the frustrations of three sibling characters who are trying to find a place of belonging  in this big wide world. Important plot events emerge in  science classes where a caring teacher attempts to teach her students of the importance of space travel. The launching of the Challenger (January 28, 1986) is central to this novel.

RICK by Alex Gino (2020)

Just as the author successfully brought attention to the issue of gender indentity in the novel about a transgender young girl (George), they bring forth thoughts about tweenagers who might be questioning their own sexual  in this engaging title. Seventh-grader, Rick, isn’t sure if he likes girls or boys and considers that he may be asexual.  He decides to join the Rainbow Spectrum club in his middle school where kids of many genders and identities congregate. Rick hopes this club will bring him some answers and some new friendships, particularly since he is challenged with his friendship with Jeff known to be a bully and homophobic. A sub-plot involves a warm relationship with his grandfather where Rick learns more about keeping secrets. Gino expertly conveys not only the language of LGBTQIAP+ identities but provides insight and support through fictional characters that middle school readers can identify with, as they come to question their own sexuality as they approach adolescenthood.


Four cousins – The Mighty Muskrats – come from their rez life to experience life in the big city.  They plan to have fun at the Exhibition, to attend a rock concert (hopefully) and most of all, find some answers about the disappearnce of Grandpa’s missing sister who was ‘scooped up’ by the government and adopted out to strangers. Adventures include a visit to a mall, a pool-playing event, bullying harassment, volunteering at a street fair. Research takes the team to government agencies, including the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, where the Might Muskrats hope to unravel truths and answers about the residential schools and the fate of their missing auntie. This is one of the best pieces of fiction I’ve encountered recently to help illuminate the history of Residential Schools. Through a mystery story that involves an investigation of facts, readers can learn about the history and impact of Residential schools on Indigenous cultures. This title is the second book in the Mighty Muskrats Mystery series by Michael Hutchinson who is a citizen of the Misipawaistik Cree Nation in the Treaty 5 territory north of Winnipeg. The Case of Windy Lake is the first title in the series.

INVISIBLE EMMIE by Terri Libenson (Emmie & Friends Series)

Libenson must be living inside the locker of a middle school because her observations and insights into the life of grade 7 and 8 students are  right on! (and funny).  Emmie’s modus operandi is to remain a rather  silent invisible participants the tweens around her carry on with school tasks, friendships and even infatuations.  When an embarrassing note falls into the wrong hands, Emmie is humiliated and wants to hide even more.  But finding out who her true friends are gives her strength and by days end (spoiler alert) she comes out of her shell and changes for the better. Like Diary of a Wimpy Kid series,  Libenson’s books are heavily illustrated with cartoons and graphic pages and understandably have a wide appeal since young tweens can , identify with and learn from these true-to-life characters.  This title is the first in a popular series: Positively Izzy, Just Jaime, Becoming Brianna.

A GOOD KIND OF TROUBLE by Lisa Moore Ramee (ages 11- 13)

7th grader, Shayla (Shay0 gets itchy pals whenever trouble approaches.  Life in Junior High is abound with trials and tribulations: boy trouble, friendship trouble, following school rules trouble and track competing trouble.  But bigger trouble is happening in the city when the a white policeman is declared innocent after shooting a black person. A powerful protest that Shay and her family participates in has the young teenager her own Black identity./ To support the Black Lives Matter movement, Shayla starts wearing an armband which means more itchy palms.  This is a book that will inspire readers to look at the world outside and inside themselves and as they strive stand up for what they believe in.

CLEAN GETAWAY by Nic Stone (2020)

Clean Getaway is a road trip story.  G’ma is white and she invites her black 11-year-old grandson, William “Scoob” (known as Scoob-a-doob to his grandmother) to join her on an impromptu trip in an RV.  The journey takes them to the southern states where the story of grandma’s past is slowly unravelled.  Along the way, G’ma has a chance to inform her grandson about historical injustices to black heroes (e..g Emmett Till,  Ruby Bridges). The author is best known for her YA novels (Dear Martin, Odd One Out)  and with this first novel middle -grade reader, illustrated by Dawaud Anyabwilean, she tells a story that is sure to appeal to 9-12 year olds. It is already a top ten title on the New York Times booklist.

CLICK: One Novel Ten Authors (various authors) (ten stories)

The stories in this book were written by various British, American and Canadian authors (e.g. Eoin Colfer, Deborah Ellis, Gregory Maguire, Linda Sue Park, Tim  Wynne-Jones.  The link to these stories is the character of George “Gee” Keane, a famous photojournalist who has travelled the world taking pictures of people at work, at war, in sports and at play.  The first story by Linda Sue Park launches the narrative when we learn that, upon his death, Gee leaves his grandson some photographs and his granddaughter a box with seven shells. How the camera and the shells and the photographs are connected is the premise of this book written in 2007.  As to be expected, I liked some stories better than others and sometimes felt the link between the stories was a bit of a stretch.



GHOST BOYS  by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Ghost Boys by [Jewell Parker Rhodes]


A powerful novel about a black boy killed by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat.   As a ghost, this twelve-year old observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the aftermath of what they see as an unjust killing. The narrative draws connections through history as the boy meets other black boys including Emmett Till in heaven. I’ve just finished reading this book for the second time and I highly recommend it as a title that that empowers readers to make the world better and to prompt “meaningful change for all youth.” (page 208)

10 + 1 PICTURE BOOK PURCHASES: Summer 2020

The following batch of picture books were recent purchased. In recent months, i’ve been intentionally seeking out titles that support my investigation of tough topics. I choose to add to titles of recommended selections to address social justice, diversity and equity. How do we choose which titles we are going to spend our money on? In the following posting I provide a brief rationale for each of these choices for tough topics and/or otherwise. Dates of publication vary.

A STORY ABOUT AFIYA by James Berry; illus. Anna Cunha (2020)

An illustrated version of a poem by James Berry in which a young girl, with fine black skin where’s a summer frock where everything she passes (e.g. red roses, butterflies, a flock of pigeons, two tigers, a school of fish) is imprinted on her frock. A celebration of imagination, wonder and preservation of memories.  Stunning ‘poetic art by Brazilian Anna Cunha.

WHY? 1) Jamaican poet James Berry 2. a beautiful marriage of poem and illustrations

Afiya stands. She watches

the sharp pictures of colour,

untouched by her wash.

HER MOTHER’S FACE by Roddy Doyle; illus. Freya Blackwood (2008)

The author’s mother’s mother died when his mother was three. She has some fond memories of her mother but she couldn’t remember her mother’s face. This story is a tribute to that person.

WHY? Am fond of adult and children’s literature by this famous Irish author and I like to collect books that shine a light on adult/child relationships and the preservation of memories.

I LOVE YOU, BLUE KANGAROO by Emma Chichester Clark

Lily’s favourite toy is Blue Kangar0o, until she is gifted with other cuddly companions (Wiggly Green Crocodile, Yellow Cotton Rabbit, Wild Brown Bear etc.

WHY? Adrienne Gear recommended this as a mentor text for kids to write stories about their own toy treasures.

DUCK, DEATH AND THE TULIP by Wolf Erlbruch (2008/2020)

Death, holding a tulip, comes to fetch Duck .  Through what may seem ordinary conversations and  ordinary activities, Death and Duck prepare for the end-of life journey. A book that inspires contemplation and compassion and can inspire questions about death and dying.

WHY?: I seek out books that help unpack the tough topic of death and remembrance. Like Cry Heart But Do Not Break, this title tackles a sensitive topic through the personification and visual representation of death. Was eager to seek out work by Astrid Lindgren Award winning  German illustrator, Wolf Erlbruch

SUMMER FEET by Sheree Fitch; illus. Carolyn Fisher (2020)

A celebration of the outdoors, of play, and being barefoot. It’s great to review a picture book as ‘delightful’ and really mean it. Delightful! Joyous! Wordwonderfulicious!  I smile when reading Sheree’s word wizardry. I can hear the laughter of the children playing in each of the illustrations.

WHY? The book is by Sheree Fitch. No other reason needed.

We listen to secrets in whispers of leaves

in our carefully carefree

shimmy shenanigans

slow-climbing, toe-gripping

mighty baboonish



CHESTER’S WAY by Kevin Henkes (1988)

Chester and Wilson are two great friends who like to do everything together and do so until the incorrigibly Lilly moves into the neighbourhood and wants things done her way.

WHY? For a course I will be teaching, I am interested in acquiring picture books that present views of child play.  A book about cooperation and kindness. Hooray for Kevin Henkes. Hooray for Lilly

HOW TO BE A BUTTERFLY by Laura Knowles; illus Catell Ronca (2019)

Facts about butterflies are presented as instructions (“To be a butterfly, you must have two thin antennae, each with a club at the end.”  Facts are informative, clear accompanied by lively bright illustrations.

WHY? Am intrigued with nonfiction picture books that present information in a unique way. This title is a great mentor text for having students present information in the 2nd person voice. Thanks to Adrienne Gear for this terrific book recommendation.

LIFT by Minh Le; illus. Dan Santat (2020)

A young girl is enamoured with pushing buttons on the elevator. She is suddenly surprised to find her launching into other places (a jungle, outer space) all through the power of a pushed elevator button. Great illustrations filled with wordless pages.

WHY? Great reviews for this 2020 title. An engaging adventure tale presented with colourful illustrations by award-winning illustrator Dan Santat.  If you could push a button that could take you on any adventure, where might you choose to go and what would happen if you had the chance to ‘lift off’.

THE MAP OF GOOD MEMORIES by Fran Nuno; illus. Zuzanna Celej (2016)

A young girl is sad to be leaving the city which she has always lived in. To say farewell, she visits the places that have provided her with happy memories.

WHY?: A book that inspires readers to think about the special people and places and daily pleasures and perhaps create their own memory maps.

FAIRY SCIENCE by Ashley Spires (2019)

Fairies use magic wands and potions, but Esther likes facts and evidence. A tree in the forest is wilting and the fairies want to make magic talismans and do a mystical moonlight danced. Esther knows that only research, making a hypothesis and trying experiments will save the day.

WHY?: I’m fond of nonfiction picture books where information is inherent within narrative text.   Hooray for stories of magics. Bravo to a picture book that celebrates and promotes the power of science!


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.




The 12 Canadian titles listed below represent the wide range of topics and styles that both inform and entertain.  Most of these titles appear in picture book format and can be shared with as read alouds in the classroom, or offered to students as independent titles to engage with.


ALIS THE AVIATOR: An ABC Aviation Adventure by Danielle Metcalf-Chenail; illus Kalpna Patel (PB)

Alia Kennedy was one of the first Indigenous female  commercial pilots in Canada. Alis guides readers into the world of aviation through 26 words that illuminate the world of flight. The alphabetical rhyming couplet format efficiently provides noteworthy vocabulary and explanations (C is for Chimpmunk, a small and nimble plane; D is for Dakota, a northern weather vane).  The colourful, three-dimensional cut-paper illustrations add information through simple depiction of aircraft.  The glossary of terms and biography of Dr. Alis Kennedy are a bonus feature. That this book is celebrated through female characters is an extra-special bonus.  A perfect nonfiction picture book.

CELLS: An Owners Handbook by Carolyn Fisher (PB)

An efficient, appealing way to present facts about cells. This picture book answers questions: What are cells? Where are they? What do they do? A artistic way to present information with loud colourful spreads and varied fonts.

IT BEGAN WITH A PAGE: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way by Kyo Maclear; illus Julie Morstad (PB)

Gyo Fukikawa, a famous children’s book illustrator, got claim to fame with the book Babies published in 1963. this was the first time children of all colours adorned the pages of a picture book thus paving the way to a consciousness of representing a more inclusive world. Maclear tells the story of Fujikawa’s young life as a Japanese American and celebrates her creative process and her fight for racial diversity in children’s literature.

KILLER STYLE: How fashion injure maimed and murdered throughout history by Serah-Marie McMahon & Allison Mattehews David

What a unique, sometimes macabre, sometimes startling contribution to nonfiction genre. This book is an exploration of ways that clothing and cosmetics have tormented those who wear and make them.  Such headings as Murderous Mercury Hats, Constricting Corsets, Strangling Scarves and Fatal Footwear Fiascos is sure to intrigue. The photographic images and the illustrations certain enhance the ‘killer” topic. Beautifully laid-out design.

SERGEANT BILLY: The True Story of The Goat Who Went to War by Mireille Messier; illus. Kass Reich (PB)

Words and pictures tell the true story of a goat named Billy who was adopted by a platoon of soldiers during World War I. Billy saved the lives of his comrades and was smuggled, imprisoned, promoted for bravery. Narratives can help young people make sense of historical events and this picture book is a fine  example of a picture book that engages and informs through story and images.

FOREST by Kate Moss Gamblin; illus. Karen Patkau (PB)

This title is part of a see-to-learn series.  The text invites readers to consider what they see in a forest through the seasons (e.g., animalltracks, creatures in the soil, wild flowers). The question format encourages readers to take a close-up look at the vibrant visual images through lyrical text (‘Do you see the delicious sunlight, giving way to the soft darkness of the night?’

BEASTLY PUZZLES: A brain-boggling Animal Guessing Game by Rachel Poliquin; illus by Bryron Eggenschwiler (PB)

Information is presented in a novel way in this open the flap format.  Each spread provides objects that connect to the characteristics and behaviours of animals. The author and artist provide a puzzling list that are clues to the bits and pieces of animals  (e.g., What animal could you make with… a transparent raincoat, steak knives, two paddles, a fishing gaff hook (answer: A polar bear). Intriguing way to present information about the uniqueness of creatures.

IF I GO MISSING by Brianna Jonnie with Nahanni Shingoose; illus. Nshannacappo (YA) (PB)

This book is based on the true story of Brianna Jonnie who, at the age of 14,  wrote an open letter to the Winnipeg Police Service, imploring them to ‘do better’ when investigating cases of missing Indigenous peoples. (‘Asking for the public’s help days or weeks after an Indigenous girl goes missing is equivalent to announcing publicly that her life does not matter, or at least, not as much as others. The mostly black white and grey images add a sombre quality to this book.

GREAT BEAR RAINFOREST: A giant-screen adventure in the Land of the Spirit Bear by Ian McAllister and Alex Van Tol

An informative book that provides detailed facts and strong nature photographic image about the Great Bear Rainforest that stretches between the northern tip of Vancouver Island and Alaska. This book is a rich document of the making of the Great Bear Rainforest film.

PICKING UP THE PIECES: Residential School Memories and the Making of the Witness Blanket by Carey Newman and Kirstie Hudson

The Witness Blanket is a monumental travelling art installation that is an intricate quilting of assembled material objects, each telling a piece of Canada’s school story.  Artifacts were gathered from coast to coast and were woven into a blanket that is a three dimensional multi-panelled  exhibit. The book preserves that experience in a beautifully arranged catalogue of  photographs and artifacts (e.g. moccasins, mush-hole bowls, letters, paintings). This book in itself is a staggering artifact with information and stories of the residential school experience.

FAIRY SCIENCE by Ashley Spires (PB)

I’m fond of nonfiction picture books where information is inherent within narrative text. Fairies use magic wandss and potions, but Esther likes facts and evidence. A tree in the forest is wilting and the fairies want to make magic talismans and do a mystical moonlight danced.  Esther knows that only research, making a hypothesis and trying experiments will save the day.  Hooray for stories of magics. Bravo to a picture book that celebrates and promotes the power of science!

WHAT THE EAGLE SEES: Indigenous Stories of Rebellion and Renewal by Eldon Yellowhorn & Kathy Lowinger

This book is a follow-up to Turtle Island by Eldon Yellowhorn adn Kathy Lowinger. In this book the authors tell stories of what Indigenous Peoples did when invaders arrived on their homelands.  The collection provides key moments in Indigenous History by telling, through about losses and survival challenges, forced assimilation and abuse  that were experienced when new nations, new ideas were formed to keep the Indigenous cultures alive. Photographs, titles and text boxes help make the information accessible to readers.


Living in Isolation I have challenged myself  during the months of May and June to read at least ten poems a day. This isn’t hard to do, since I’ve been dipping into anthologies for young people and adults audiences, including illustrated picture books, to help me reach my goal. To date, I’ve read over 500 poems, ore than I’ve read in the whole last year. How many poems have you read?

WOKE: a young poet’s call to justice by Mahogany L . Browne with Elizabeth Acevedo and Olivia Gatwood; illus. Theodore Taylor III

The passion of social justice is presented in 24 poems dealing with such topics as discrimination, empathy, speaking out and acceptance.

If we must live, let it not be in silence

Each shadow surrounding our right to be outraged

Let us not sit hands crossed while our stomachs grow upset

from Right To: After Claude McKay by Mahogany L. Browne


POEMS ALOUD by Joseph Coelho 

This collection of poems are intended to be read aloud/ performed alone, with friends and in a large group. Some suggested techniques are provided to offer different ways of approaching a poem (e.g., This poem is a race. Read as fast and clearly as you can; Start softly and finish Loud (crescendo), but experimenting with voice, sounds, gesture and movement help to lift the words of the page and have ‘fun with poetry.

The woosh of crops in he field


plays in our ears.

The pebble roll of the sea on the shore

hushes in our ears.

from To the Countryside


THE WOMAN  IN THIS POEM by Georgia Heard (editor); (Adult)

How many poetry anthologies do you buy/ read in one year? I challenge myself to go beyond poetry collections written for young people and was pleased to come across this special creation (2015) , by a special poet. Georgia Heard has collected  over seventy classic and contemporary poems written by women about women’s “lives and dreams, thoughts and experiences.” The book is divided into five thematic sections (Love, Motherhood, Work, Family and Friends, Balance. An exquisite – and tough – collection that shines a light on women voices.

Does a poem enlarge the world

or only our idea of the world

from Mathematics by Jane Hirshfield


WHOO-KU HAIKU: A Great Horned Owl Story by Maria Gianferrari; illus. Jonathan Voss

A picture book. A nonfiction picture book. A nonfiction picture book told in verse. A nonfiction book told in haiku verse. And it is a STORY (of the great owl).  The birth and growth of a pair of great horned owlets under the protection of Mama and Papa.  What a beautiful  beautiful piece of literature!

Trying out her wings

Beating, leaping, teetering

Owlet bobs and springs


POEMS THAT MAKE GROWN MEN CRY:100 men and the words that moved them by Anthony and Ben Holden (eds.) (Adult)

The editors invited 100 men (poets, novelists, scholars,  stage and film artists) to each select one poem that would say brings them to tears.  The poems are arranged in chronological order by date of publication. Who’s to say why a poem moves someone but love and loss, of course,  seem to be the predominant theme.  Confession#1: I didn’t “GET” a lot of the poems, but that’s ok.  Confession #2: I tried to figure out how many of these poems touched the heart.  I will perhaps re-read some.  There was one poem that touched me because it brought a specific memory of time, place and relationship and I therefore felt I had a personal connection to the words. I have travelled that highway, I have witnessed that twilight. My dear friend and I have been welcomed by those ponies and pastures. Connections: I guess that’s what makes a grown man cry.  The following excerpt begins the poem, entitled Blessing by James Arlington Wright chosen by novelist, Richard Ford:

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota

Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.

And the eys of those two Indian ponies

Darken with kindness.

They have come gladly out of the willow

To welcome my friend and me.


WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! poems by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater; illus. Ryan O’Rourke

Poet VanDerwater previously wrote the anthology Read! Read! Read! and with this publication she digs into the world of writing through a range of rhymed pieces. Titles include: Writing about Reading: My Story, Revision is, Writing is for Everyone, and Truth and Wish.

I make marks with one wish-
that a person will look
that a reader will giggle

The reason I write?
To connect.


I AM A SEED THAT GREW THE TREE: A nature poem for every day of the year selected by Fiona Waters; illus. Frann Preston-Gannon.

I bought this 300+ page anthology while on a trip to London, and though it was heavy to pack, I knew that it was a worthwhile purchase if only it led me (parents? teachers?) to read a poem a day. The book has been sitting on my coffee table and I decided to read the  collection of poems, organized into months.  (it took me 12 days to read 365 poems, most by British poets, some classics, some anonymous, some very short.  The colourful spreads by Preston-Gannon provided a stunning, colourful gallery of animal and nature images. This book was certainly worth shlepping home.

I am the seed

that grew the tree

that gave the wood

to make the page

to fill the book

with poetry

~ Judith Nicholls

GROWN-UP READS: May/June 2020

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been alternating my reading between children’s literature and ‘grown-up’ reads. The following TEN thought-provoking titles are some  that I recently enjoyed (mostly).   

I WAS A CHILD OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS by Bernice Eisenstein (Nonfiction)

This moving memoir provides images and stories of the author’s childhood growing up in a Yiddish-speaking household in Toronto’s Kensington Market areas in the early 1950’s.  Though both parents were Holocaust survivors who met in Auschwitz and married after liberation, their experiences of war were ever-present but rarely spoken about. The recollections, along with the spot drawings, portraits and full page images created by the author, provide poetic, narrative detail to Einstein’s  self-discovery and contemplation of her connection to the Holocaust.

THIS IS PLEASURE by Mary Gaitskill

This novella (81 pages) came highly recommended to me and this was my virgin read of Mary Gaitskill’s (Bad Behaviour, The Mare, Two Girls Fat and Thin).  No doubt that this was a though provoking reading experiencing that invites readers to contemplate and figure out the complexities of the #MeToo movement. The story is told in alternative voices, Quinn (Q) and Margot (M). Quinn a smart, talented editor is dismissed from his job because of inappropriate/naughty/rude behaviour. He’s not the most likeable fictional character you’d come across. But Quinn just wants to enter and better understand into the minds of the women he encounters (he never sleeps with them). Margot, a faithful friend understands where he is coming from. Sort of.  Q is infuriating, but what harm did he really do and should his life be destroyed because of his own rude/ but honest words and actions?  Get into groups and discuss.  The story is available online (see New Yorker magazine).

THIS IS NOT ME by Janice Galloway (memoir)

The setting: Scotland, late 1950’s through 1960’s. This is the story of the Scottish author’s childhood with “a boozy father, a staunch mother, and a domineering older sister’. To survive the circumstances, young Galloway took a rather silent stance to the abuse and poverty and dominance that she faced.  She astutely observes  the people in her community, her teachers, her sister’s wildness, television, music  As a preteen, shes trives to find a voice for herself.   I am always intrigued by stories of young people who must deal with what life deals them, however troublesome and unfortunate those things might be. “Your life and your luck were the self-same thing, and they carried on regardless, irrespective of your hopes, wishes and desires. All you had to do was last through whatever came towards you, good or bad. All you had to do was hold on tight.” (page 281). Janice Galloway’s e story continues in a sequel entitled All Made Up.

SWIMMING IN THE DARK by Tomasz Jedrowski

This novel by gay Polish author Jedrowski, surveys the life of Ludwig, who is at first disillusioned by his homosexual desires and then enamoured and enthralled when he meets up with Janusz, a fellow university student, at an agricultural camp. Life back in Warsaw challenges the two men from deepening their relationship when political views and choices divide them. The book’s voice varies from second to first person; the time varies from present to past. An elegant story of love and loss with the Polish setting providing history, culture and atmosphere to the storytelling.

I KNOW YOU KNOW WHO I AM by Peter Kispert

Each character is gay. Each character lies or deceives. One hires an actor to pretend that he is an old boyfriend, Troy says he was an avid hunter, Gavin told his boyfriend he was a professional diver (he’s not).  Who are these people and what do they say about those in the gay community? An anthology of 21 short stories (some only two or three pages) and when reading such a collection, I was expecting to find some (one?) more appealing than others but this wasn’t the case. I read the stories chronologically (skipped over a few) and was unwowed when I reached the end of the tales.


Sometimes I just like to dig into a bestselling title. Sometimes I like to read a novel before seeing the movie or watching the TV series.  Little Fires Everywhere has been at the top of the booksellers list for 70 weeks or so. The story is set in a ‘reputable’ upper class suburban neighbourhood in Cleveland.  The four teenage Richardson children each have their issues with relationships, family and/or otherwise. The family hires a maid to help with the household but she has hidden secrets about her artistic past, her pregnancy and her relationship with her daughter. Another significant plot event is the appearance of an Asian woman who once abandoned her infant who is about to be adopted by well-to-do parents. (What makes someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?). OK, I’ll say it, this is a ‘woman’s novel’.  It is a story about class, race, secrets, community etc. Ng’s writing is crisp as she challenges readers to be sympathetic to different characters.  Now I can watch the TV series with Reese Witherspoon and Kerri Washington, who’s images as I had in mind when I read the book. Comment: The racial identity of two central characters is rather a mystery.  The choice to leave this ‘open-ended’ bothered me some because I think knowing the race of these characters would add some depth to their narrative. With the TV series we know that Mia and Pearl are black.  For some reason, this was totally eft vague in the novel but I had the television commercials to help me understand who these characters were. Just sayin’!

LINCOLN IN THE BARDO by George Saunders

This book has been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years (actually I have two copies).  Saunders won the Booker Prize for this novel and it seems, from online reviews that it’s either a love-it or hate-it reading venture. I gave up after 150 pages (length 344 pages). I was not enjoying it. I wasn’t getting it. And I didn’t want to spend another day being in this supernatural cemetery with characters I just couldn’t care about.  Some sympathy did  go to the plight of  the spirit President Lincoln’s 11 year old son. The style and form certainly intrigues which is why I picked up the book in the first place. The majority of the book is presented as snippets of conversation with real and historical sources woven into the fictional narration. Very clever. Very inventive. Very not for me.  I will gladly pass on both copies of this book to anyone who is a ‘smarter’ reader than I am.

CREATING COMPASSIONATE KIDS: Essential conversations to have with young children by Shauna Tominey (Professional Resource)

The author guides parents, caregivers and educators through conversations with young children about a range of topics (e.g., Race, Sex and gender, Peer Pressure, Kindness). The goal of this book is to have adults talk to children about topics through conversations that help children recongize how they feel and how they fit in with the word. Sample conversations provided throughout.

APARTMENT by Teddy Wayne

This story, set in New York in 1995, 1996, didn’t seem to go anywhere but in the end I’d say it inspired readers to think about masculinity, class, loyalty and the pursuit of one’s dreams.  The narrator is lucky enough to live illegally  in a rent-controlled apartment (courtesy of his aunt. He is also lucky to live off his father’s expenses. He meets the talented Billy in the MFA writing program they both attend. and invites him to live rent-free in the rapport. The two guys have different upbringings, the same goals of getting their work published and but somewhat different expectations of what friendship means. Apartment is both the central setting and I’d say a metaphor for being connected with others (or not).


Apeirogon: A Novel by [Colum McCann]

APEIROGON by Colum McCann

I bought this book after reading a knockout review in the New York Times. It is certain to be on my favourites list by year’s end, if for nothing more than it’s unique style. 1001 Chapters (I’d say ‘episodes’ (recalling One Thousand And One Knights). Some chapters are only one sentence long. The book is a hybrid of fiction and nonfiction drawn from the  true story of Bassam a Palestinian and Rami, an Israeli who bond after the terrible loss of their daughters. Fact and imagination, narrative and information are woven together brilliantly. For some, the originality of the format (is it really a novel?), and the meandering of past and present would be off-putting for some. However,  I was fascinated how McCann dug deep into the grief and healing of the two families, shone a light on  the politics of Israel, inspect the world of birds and flight,  and dipped into figures from history (Philipe Petit, Einstein, Christ) to illuminate the central story. I’ve had the author’s Let the Great World Spin sitting on my shelf for a couple of years and I now look forward to reading it.




WOW! I have read these twelve novels over the past month. Each of these is terrific and I would say I would give each of these middle years and YA novels four star (out of four star rating). And I’ve given shout outs to THREE must-read titles. 

THE COLOR OF THE SUN by David Almond

Plot: A boy named Davie  wanders through a countryside on a warm summer’s day. Davie’s mother urges him “Don’t hurry back. The day is long, the world is wide, you’re young and free.”  Davie’s father died a few years ago and obeying his mother, the boy now sets off on a journey, (literally and metaphorically, real and imaginary and literally). To add to the plot,  a teenager has been found stabbed in the town’s ruins. and Davie thinks he knows who the murderer is and will meet up with him on his wanderings.  Each encounter  (a priest, a one-legged tramp, two girls creating a world of fairies and monsters, a best friend, a frog, a ghost) that  lures him to question ‘the meaning of life’. This novel will not appeal to all middle age readers, but it’s worldliness and otherworldliness packed an emotional wallop for me.  Because this novel is still lingering in my mind, I would say it was one of my favourite reads this spring and sure to be in my top five books by year’s end. I haven’t enjoyed Almond books much since reading Skellig, but this one was a WOW! I think I shall reread this novel again soon. Beautiful, beautiful writing: “The starlings swirl in him. The fox prowls in him. It all becomes part of this kid, this ld, this boy-becoming-man, this ordinary fragment of the ordinary world.”

DANCING AT THE PITY PARTY: A dead mom graphic memoir  by Tyler Feder (story) (ages 12+)

When Tylee Feder was in her first year of college, her mother was diagnosed with stage four cancer. This biography tells of the year of her mother’s death,  Jewish mourning rituals and the aftermath of dealing with grief.  Feder’s memories and fondness of her mother are strong but now she must deal with profound sadness. Any0ne who has lost a parent will especially empathize with Feder’s story and the ways she deals with death, loss and remembrance. The graphic format of this book add appeal (at times amusing) but mostly ignite author’s perceptions of the pain she felt. A great book!

WINK by Rob Harrell

7th grader Ross Malloy is diagnosed with rare eye cancer and in order to prevent total blindness he goes through surgery and daily treatments over a month. Ross struggles to accept his circumstances when all he wants to be is normal.  He has to deal with problems that many pre-teens face (bullies, falling in love, friendship circles) but having to deal with gobs of eye goo, hair loss, a weird cowboy hat and a squinty eye are not part of every 13 year old’s world.   Spot illustrations and comic panels appear throughout the book adding a sense of humour to the narrative.  Wink is a work of fiction but the details of the treatments were based on the author’s own experiences with cancer. Add this title to great books that deal with resilience and kindness.

STEPPING STONES by Lucy Kinsley (graphic novel, grades 3-5)

Based on the author’s own story, a young girl moves to a farm with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Jen longs to return to the city but eventually relaxes into the routines of living on a farm (taking care of the chicks, setting up a stand at the market, catching frogs, milking cows etc.). A notebook of Jen’s drawings  and comics adds an extra visual appeal to this graphic story.

HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon (YA)

Tariq Johnston, a black teenager, is shot down by Jack Franklin who is white. In the aftermath of his supposedly gang murder, the people in the community has something to think, feel and say.  Accounts vary but somewhere lies the truth.  This is a story of a neighbourhood struggling to make sense of the tragedy and learning to cope. Magoon has chosen a cast of eighteen characters to address the controversial issues from different perspectives. In the notes at the end of the book, Magoon writes about the novel: “The book offers a chance for young people to discuss issues of race, community, violence, death, authority, voice perspective and truth with the safe space of fiction.  Hopefully it allows for a more open and less loaded conversation than might occur while discussing the real-world issues that the novel parallels…. I hope that this novel and other YA literature can be used to start conversations between teens and adults about the prevalence of these shooting incidents, and how we as a nation can begin to respond and heal from these tragedies, and hopefully learn how to prevent similar things from happening in the future. How It Went Down was published in 2014,

HARVEY HOLDS HIS OWN byColleen Nelson; illus. Tara Anderson

Readers who enjoyed meeting Westie, Harvey in Harvey Comes Home will be pleased to read another adventure about this loveable, faithful dog.  The story is told in short chapters from three different perspectives: Maggie, Austin and Harvey.  Harvey’s owner, Maggie has chosen to volunteer in the senior residence and although this is a positive experience (especially her relationship with Mrs.Fradette who has her own story to tell about being a female auto mechanic) but is troubled by changing friendships. Austin is concerned that his grandfather, the janitor at the the retirement home, is going to get fired and is on a mission to solve the problem. Everyone loves Harvey but his snooping around gets him in trouble with a mean old raccoon. The narrative passes by at a quick pace and readers will be wagging their tales as they read about the adventures of the appealing characters who appear throughout. The novel stands alone from the first book but readers will likely want to spend more time with the dog and the residents of the Brayside Retirement Villa.

ELEVEN by Tom Rogers

How do we help middle age readers understand catastrophic events that happened in the world before they were born?  Tom Rogers tells the story that takes place on September 11th, 2001. It is the day that Alex Douglas turned eleven. It is the day that Alex’s mother went to work in Manhattan as a nurse and his father is scheduled to drive the train that goes underneath the twin towers. Rogers brings humanity to this story through the Alex’s eyes, who longs more than anything to get a new dog for his birthday. An engaging informative, almost like being there, reading experience for young readers who may or may not know much about the historical event that changed the world.

ECHO MOUNTAIN by Lauren Wolk

Wolk writes beautifully, poetically (Wolf Hollow, Beyond the Bright Sea) and with this third novel for middle years reader she once again demonstrates a talent for weaving setting and character together to tell a captivating story. It is the time of the Great Depression and Ellie and her family have moved into Echo Mountain, which perfectly suits this girl who immerses herself in the rugged natural world. An accident has left her Father in a coma and his revival is the central plots of the novel.  When Ellie discovers a ‘hag’ who lives alone in a cabin, she continues to learn about natural medicine, the stories that shape us and the importance of family. Scenes with a black snake, flesh-eating maggots, a bear, bee stings are as strong and harrowing as any you’d find in children’s literature.

PARACHUTES by Kelly Yang (YA / Ages 14 +)

China sends the greatest number of international students to US High schools Statistically, the numnber of international high school students from China rose by 48 percent between 2013 and 2016.  This novel tells the story of a group of ‘parachutes’  who are dropped off to live in private homes and study while their wealthy parents remain in Asia. The book is told with alternative voices: Claire who comes to California from Shanghai and Dani, Claire’s host sister who’s mother works very hard to make ends meet. Claire has always lived a life of privilege and now must learn to cope on her pwn without daily parental involvement. Dani is a skilled debater and is determined to enter the championship and get a scholarship to Yale.  These two bright teenagers do not live together on friendly terms but in the end find out that they have things in common `the power of speaking out.’ There is a content warning included as a preface to the book: “This book contains scenes depicting sexual harassment and rape.”  As we journey through the novel we wonder about the who, what and why of harassment and rape. This is a powerful element of the story that I would say appears about 2/3 of the way through the novel and the Author’s Note that appears at the end of the book, informs readers of the reasons she wrote Parachutes, with incidents drawn from her own life. This is an important book to bring attention and understanding to the #MeToo movement.


Ghost Boys by [Jewell Parker Rhodes]

GHOST BOYS (fiction: Ages 10-13) by Jewell Parker Rhodes (REREAD)


A powerful novel about a black boy killed by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat.   As a ghost, this twelve-year old observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the aftermath of what they see as an unjust killing. The narrative draws connections through history as the boy meets other black boys including Emmett Till in heaven.


by Gene Luen Yang (graphic text)

Dragon Hoops by [Gene Luen Yang]
This is a FANTASTIC graphic book. A FANTASTIC graphic Nonfiction Book. A FANTASTIC nonfiction book about Basketball. In fact, everything you wanted to know about basketball and then some. Master comic artist Gene Luen Yang didn’t ‘get’ sports at all as a kid. While working as a computer teacher at a HighSchool in California, he decides to observe and document the training and challenges of outstanding players on the men’s varsity team. The book is rich in presenting historical information, issues of racism and sexism and the joys and challenges of competing. You can feel the sweat of the players, hear the roar of the crowds and be part and the joys and sorrows of winning and losing championships.  This book is certain to appeal to a wide range of readers whether they be graphic readers, sports enthusiasts or admirers of great books.  WOW!

by Eric Walters

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.

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


Larry bought a dozen new picture books that make a varied bookshelf of titles that are humourous or deal with tough topics.  Nine of these titles were published in 2020. 


A DROP OF THE SEA by Ingrid Chabbert; illus. Guridi (kindness) (2017)

Ali and his great-grandmother live in an desert.  In her old age, great-mother is getting weaker. Ali asks ‘Have all of your dreams come true?’ and she expresses her wish to see the sea. The young boy is determined to fulfill her wishes and sets off to bring the sea to his grandmother. A beautiful story about strong family ties,   loyalty, kindness and determination to do something to make someone’s dreams come true. What a beautiful beautiful picture book with simple narrative and simple but powerful visual images.

I LOVE MY PURSE by Belle Demont; illus. Sonja Wimmer (gender identity) (2017)

Charlie is enamoured with a bright red purse that was a gift from his grandmother. He has thrilled to be taking the purse with him to school, but he is confronted by his father, and schoolmates about his choice.  Each person confronts Charlie on is choices (e.g., “You are a boy. Boys ride skateboards and read comic books.”).   Like Morris Micklewhite and his adoration of a tangerine dress (Christine Baldacchino), this young boy is a hero this stroy challenges gender stereotypes and is a strong example of the need to be true to yourself.

*RACE CARS by Jenny Devenny (racism) (2016)

This is a book about white privilege designed to inspire tough conversations about race, privilege and oppression. Devenny tells the story of 2 best friends, a white car and a black car, that have different experiences and face different rules (“Bridge is for white cars only. All other cars must go around the river”) while entering the same race. Advice is given about talking about race with kids and discussion questions are provided to help frame the discussion.  I wonder what questions the kids will have? I wonder how significant they will grasp the metaphorical story? I wonder what they will come to understand about white privilege? I am writing this blurb as CNN is reporting about the Black Lives Matters protests this week.  How can we help children find answers to questions – and moreover, ask questions that can bring them to some kind of understanding.  The intent of this book is very clear, very timely, and admittedly very important. I’m just not too sure about the didactic spirit of this book. I haven’t quite made my mind up about this title. I think I will have to share it with some young readers, one on one or gathered on the rug in a classroom

SMART GEORGE by Jules Feiffer

Oh, how i so loved BARK, GEORGE by this very important illustrator. It was good to revisit the character  since first meeting him in 1999. In this book the rascally George is asked by his mother to solve some simple addition questions, but George world rather do dog things (eat, nap, go for a walk) than do arithmetic.  Great to keep company with Feiffer and George again. Not sure if it has the same ‘read it again’ appeal as the original.

THE HAIRCUT by Theo Heras; illus. Renne Benoit

A father and son bond together on their first visit together to the barbershop.  Simple text, with spot on details and large colourful illustrations.  I’m sure many little ones (and parents) can relate to the experience.

NOT MY IDEA: A book about whiteness by Anastasia Higginbottom (racism)

When he watches TV, a white child witnesses coverage of a white police officer shooting a brown person whose hands were tied up.  He turns to his mother and asks “Why?” and assures the child that he is safe. An activities section urges kids to grwo justicee and seek out and listen to the truth about racism and white supremacy.

GROSS AS A SNOT OTTER by Jess Keating; illus. David DeGrand

How could such a title not appeal to young readers, especially those who are curious about animal life? Jess Keating has presented a series of books entitled “The World of Weird Animals” (Pink is for Blobfish; Cute as an Axolotl). This book provides important facts and amazing details about gross animals (e.g., maggot, Zombie worm,hagfish, star-nosed mole, parrotfish).  Each animal is featured on a double-page spread, one page being a close-up photo image, the other providing strange-but true details and a list of scientific facts that includes species name, sizediet, habitat, predators and threats.  A terrific example of a nonfiction picture book. Hooray for you Mr. Keating. And hooray for snot otters. (This wrinkly creature looks like a rotting tongue with legs. It is known as the hellbender salamander, not covered in snot but covered in mucus which comes from glands in their skin which protects them against infections.) Fascinating!

WHAT IS GIVEN FROM THE HEART by Patricia C. McKissack; illus. April Harrison (poverty)

This is McKissack’s final picture book The award-winning author (Mirandy and Brother Wind) is a rich story with an important message about kindness and the joy of giving.  Living off the mantra of Reverend Dennis, “What is given from the heart reaches the heart.” a mother and son, living in poverty, are determined to help out another destitute family. Beautiful. And I so loved the art work and expect to see more by The artist and designer April Harrison,


A young booby bird eager to discover and develop one step at a time as he learns to fly, dive, sim and fish. Thinking that his beak is too long, his wings are too wide and his feet are too long (and blue),  Benjamin learns about perseverance and self-acceptance.  Marine life, the creatures of the Galapagos, fun illustrations and fun with font add to the appeal of this entertaining story.

TICKLED PINK: How Friendship Washes the World in Color by Andree Poulin; illus Lucile Danis Drouot (kindness)

Zoe is a black and white zebra. Pancho is a black and panda. Zoe and Pancho only want to play with black and white animals. Filippo, a pink flamingo wants to be make friends with Zoe and Pancho but they are having none of it. Filippo is determined to show others how pink is significant to the wold (cherry blossoms, bubble gum, sunsets) and along the way he gains confidence, self-acceptance and along the way helps others understand learn about tolerance, belonging and the power of pink!

THE BREAKING NEWS by Sarah Lynne Reul (kindness)

A family listens to breaking news on the TV and the news is bad (never identified).  The young girl, disturbed by the reaction the news is causing in her home and community, is determined to help out in any way she can. and attempts to try to do just one thing small thing to raise everyone’s spirits.  This is a story, with limited text, is about taking action, being optimistic and spreading kindness.

UNDOCUMENTED: A worker’s fight by Duncan Tonatuiuh (immigration)

Juan is an undocumented worker, who grew up in Mexico, working in the fields and who comes to the U.S> to become an undocumented worker.  This is a story about a migrant workerrisks everything when he stands up for himself and his community. Details and narrative help readers to understand what it means to find a better life in the struggle to make a positive contribution to society. The accordian-fold format of this picture book adds power to the storytelling.


Every educator concerned with teaching about differences and empathy and acceptance, asks ‘What can I do? What should I do?’ For me, children’s literature has been central to literacy and learning and enrich understanding equity, tolerance and belonging. In this particular time citizens, young and old are trying to make sense of systemic racism, educators and parents might not know where to start in order to help students make sense of what is currently happening in the world. My answer is simple :  Start with a good book!  It is my contention that children’s literature is a meaningful way to opening up conversations in order to build a deeper understanding of social justice, equity, and diversity, now more so than ever with the issue of BLACK LIVES MATTER.

A picture book, novel, or poem can help students to…

  1. Make connections to the text, perhaps having students reveal their own stories
  2. Raise questions about topics and issues of concern
  3. Have meaningful discussions and work towards finding answers
  4. Learn about the identity of others and come to better reflect on their own identities and values
  5. Experience narratives a that serve as case studies for relationships, values and struggles that appear in fiction and can be applied to real-world contexts



THE UNDEFEATED by Kwame Alexander; illus. Kadir Nelson (poem)

A love letter to black life in the United States. 2020 Caldecott Medal and Newbery Honor,  Coretta Scott King awards.

“It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes.” (product description)

This is for the unforgettable

The swift and sweet ones

Who hurdled history

And opened up a world of possible

RACE CARS: A book about whiteness by Jenny Devenny

This is a picture book about white privilege designed to inspire tough conversations about race and privilege. Devenny tells the story of 2 best friends, a white car and black car that have  different experiences and face different rules (“Bridge is for white cars only. All other cars must go around the river.”)  while entering the same race. Advice is given about talking about race with kids and discussion questions are provided to help frame the discussion.  I wonder what questions the kids will have?

NOT MY IDEA: A book about whiteness by Anastasia Higginbottom

When he watches TV, a white child witnesses coverage of a white police officer shooting a brown person whose hands were tied up.  He turns to his mother and asks “Why?” and assures the child that he is safe. An activities section urges kids to grwo justicee and seek out and listen to the truth about racism and white supremacy.

THE OTHER SIDE by Jacquline Woodson; illus. E.B. Lewis

The story of a fence that separates the black side of town from the White side of twon. When Cl0ver sees a White girl from ‘the other side’ sitting on the fiencek she grows more curious about why the fence is there and how its division can be conquered.



GHOST BOYS (fiction: Ages 10-13) by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Ghost Boys by [Jewell Parker Rhodes]


A powerful novel about a black boy killed by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat.   As a ghost, this twelve-year old observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the aftermath of what they see as an unjust killing. The narrative draws connections through history as the boy meets other black boys including Emmett Till in heaven.

ALL AMERICAN BOYS by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds (YA)

Art imitates life in this novel, told in alternating voices examines a specific case of police brutality from the perspectives of two teenagers: Rashad  is suspected of shoplifting and assaulting a white woman and is savagely beaten by a white policeman and Quinn who witnesses the incident but initially pretends he didn’t.

THE NEW KID by Jerry Kraft (graphic biography)

Jordan Banks, 7th grader, wants nothing more than to go to an art school so he can pursue his dreams of beconming a comic artists.  His parents, however, enrol their son in  a private school known for its academics but Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.  2020 Newbery winning novel about poverty, alienation and racism.

HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon (YA)

Tariq Johnston, a black teenager, is shot down by Jack Franklin who is white. In the aftermath of his supposedly gang murder, the people in the community has something to think, feel and say.  Accounts vary but somewhere lies the truth.  This is a story of a neighbourhood struggling to make sense of the tragedy and learning to cope. Magoon has chosen a cast of eighteen characters to address the controversial issues from different perspectives. In the notes at the end of the book, Magoon writes about the novel: “The book offers a chance for young people to discuss issues of race, community, violence, death, authority, voice perspective and truth with the safe space of fiction.   I hope that this novel and other YA literature can be used to start conversations between teens and adults about the prevalence of these shooting incidents, and how we as a nation can begin to respond and heal from these tragedies, and hopefully learn how to prevent similar things from happening in the future. How It Went Down was published in 2014,

MONSTER by Walter Dean Myers (YA)

A single decision can change our whole lives. Steve Harmon is sitting in a juvenile detention centre awaiting the trial of a crime that he was accused of being part of. The story unfolds as journal entries and a screenplay of Harmon’s own imagination.

DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone (YA)

Justyce is a strong-minded teenager who goest to a white prep school where he is the only black student.An incident finds Justyce accosted by a white police officer. The diary that the boy keeps, where he writes a letter to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reveals Justyce’s story, his dreams of escaping the bad neighbourhood to have a bright future, and escaping the bad neighbourhood he lives in. His diary reveals the story about an unarmed young back boy  named Shemar Carson who was shot by a white police officer in Nevada.

THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas (YA)

 Starr Carter witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer and questions whether she should go to the police, fearing that they will not pursue legal action against the officer and justice will not be served


WOKE: A young poet’s call to justice by Hahogany L. Browne with Elizabeth Acevedo and Olivia

Gatwood; ullus. Theadore Taylor III

WE RISE, WE RESIST WE RAISE OUR VOICES  (essays, letters, poems and stories edited by  Wade

Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson

REMEMBER THE BRIDGE: Poems of a People by Carol Boston Weatherford


 A FEW RED DROPS: The Chicago Race Riots of 1919 By Claire Hartfield

On July 27, 1919, a teenage African-American boy was killed aftera. white man threw a stone that hit him. A protest riot resulted in 38 people dying and 537 people wounded.

THIS BOOK IS ANTI-RACIST: 20 lessons on how to wake up, take action, and do the work by Tiffany Jewell

Question are raised: Who are you? What is racism? Where does it come from? Why does it exist? What can you do to disrupt it? to help readers understand the history of racism and how they can use their ant-racist lens and voice to liberation,


Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-Winning Stamped from the Beginning

STAMPED: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds (YA)

Reynolds presents a journey of race from past to present, helping us to think about race, why we feel what we feel but moreover, helps readers to identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.  Available as an audiobook. This is a reimagining of Dr. Ibram X Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning.


There is a wide range of books that feature black characters that open windows, mirrors and doors to understanding their lives. When we choose to share these titles with students, we are serving them with characters who may or not be different from themselves.  Any novel by Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, Christopher Paul Curtis or Jacqueline Woodson help student meet black fictional heroes.

Kwame Alexander

The Crossover (Booked, Rebound)

The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot and Score in this Game Called Life


Christopher Paul Curtis

Bud Not Buddy

Elijah of Buxton

The Watsons Go to Burningham , 1963

Walter Dean Myers

Autobiography of a Dead Brother



Jason Reynolds

As Brave As You

Look Both Ways

Track series (Ghost, Patina, Sunny, Lu)

Jaqueline Woodson

After Tupac and D Foster

Brown Girl Dreaming

Harbor Me

If You Come Softly (sequel: Behind You)












READING IN ISOLATION: Part 2 / Children’s Lit: 2020 titles

All TWELVE fiction titles in this posted were published in 2020. I have included books for middle years readers and YA (and one nonfiction title).



Having recently finished Ahmed’s strong novel about the race, identity and the immigrant experience in the novel Interment, I was intrigued to read her 2020 novel Mad, Bad, & Dangerous to Know.  I like that the novel has two narratives (Khayamm’s, an American, French, Indian Muslim teenager) and Leila (who is forced to hide her love from the Pasha who has bestowed her with favoured status in his harem, 200 years ago.) More time is spent with Kahyam who while on vacation in Paris sets upon a quest to find the mystery behind a Delacroix painting and the history of the Dumas family. Coincidently she happens to meet a boy named Alexander Dumas who is a descendent of the famous author. Daniel Pennac with his rights of the reader, gives us permission to not finish a book, and as I approached page 100, i decided to abandon this novel because I wasn’t all that interested in the Khayyam’s mission, her former and newly-found  love interests and the detective like investigation into Dumas and Delocroix’s life. And so I won’t find out how Khayyam and Leila’s story intertwine. That’s OK.


Major League baseball player (1976-1979) had two notworthy claims to fame: 1) After raising his hand over his head and slapping a teammate’s hand who had just scored a home run, he ‘invented’ the high five slap 2) He was the first MLB player to come out to teammates during his professional career.  Author Phil Bildner pays tribute to this sports hero through the world of sixth grader Silas Wade who presented a school project to his classmates (omitting the detail about Burke, being gay. Silas a skilled young baseball player, has come to terms with the fact that he too is gay, but the process of coming out, like for many young adolescent boys is troublesome. He reveals his secret to his best friend, Zoey and his coach. Bildner knows the world of baseball and adeptly describes the action on the field and the need to be a strong, respectful member of a team. The gay author also digs respectfully into minds and worries of those who are struggling to reveal their true identities. For this, the novel works well on two levels giving sports fans and young adolescents a hero to empathize – or connect – with. High five, Mr. Bildner. High Five, Silas, and High five, Glenn Burke.

THIS PLACE: 150 Years Retold / multi-authored (Graphic text: nonfiction/ fiction) YA (2019)

Ten stories created  by Indigenous authors and illustrators, providing a history of known and unknown figures and events that tell a history that goes back 150 years. The graphic collection helps to illuminate the past, present and future of Indigenous communities and their battles to survive. The narratives are not always presented with clarity but the visuals are often strong and provide powerful imagery(frequently drawn from real-life photographs). Any of the stories can lead to further inquiry about the stories of people, places and time. “It tells tales of resistance, of leadership, of wonder and pain and pasts we must remember and futures we must keep striving towards planting each story like a seed deep inside from us ” (from the forward by Alice Elliott, p. vi)  A timeline of historical events is presented to introduce each of the stories. Suitable for adolescents and adults.

AGGIE MORTON: MYSTERY QUEEN: The Body Under the Piano by Marthe Jocelyn

A fortuitous comment  by one of Jocelyn’s editors who asked,  “whether Agatha Christie might be a good model for a child sleuth?” spurred the author to invent the fictitious twelve year-old sleuth,  Aggie Morton, who along with her new Belgian friend, Hector Perot, are caught in the web of a murder case that involves rat poison, a will, a letter, a rascally journalist,  and oh yes, a love story (or two). Young readers will delight in helping solve the crime along with Aggie in 1902 in Torquay England(which just happens to be Christie’s birthplace). What a terrific terrific read!  Four stars out of four.  The Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie e would certainly be giving Aggie Morton – and Marthe Joceyln a high five. Indeed we will be meeting this young detective in forthcoming mystery adventures. thanks to the comment of a wise editor.


Donte and Trey are brothers. Their mother is black, their father white. 12 year-0ldDonte is dark skinned and his older brother is lighter skinned.  Both boys attend a private school, but it is Donte who is taunted by racist remarks, especially from the school bully, Alan. When Dante, innocent, is accused of a misdomenor, he is expelled from school How will Dante, and other black boys feel safe and free?  For Donte, salvation is found in the world of fencing where he challenges himself to train as a competitive fencer, hoping he can take down the fencing team captain, Alan. Though not as powerful as her recent novel, Ghost Boys, the author once again examines black youth who fight against injustice and racism. The sport of fencing is given great description.

THE LITTLEST VOYAGEUR by Margi Preus; illus. Cheryl Pilgrim (ages 8 -11)

A story about the Voyageurs travelling from Montreal to trading posts. A story told from the point of view of a squirrel – yes, a rascally red squirrel named Jean Pierre Petite Le Rouge.  Le Rouge hides himself in a canoe and though he can’t contribute much to the mission but he partakes in the voyages and portages and commeraderie of Jean Mechant, JeanPaul, Jean Luc, Jean Jacques, Jean Henri, Jean Cladue, Jean Louis, and his good friend Jean Gentille (appropriately named).  Squirrel surrives the adventure but when he is shocked to find out what awaits when they finally arrive at the trading post – the FUR trading post. Applause goes to Marge Preus for making historical events come alive through fiction. We need more stories like this to make history accessible to young people. It would have certainly made history more accessible to me than those history text books. An amusing adventurous read!

WAYSIDE SCHOOL: Beneath a Cloud of Doom by Louis Sachar

He’s baccck! For millions of Sideway Stories from a Wayside School series, the popular author, after 40 years (!!!) has created another wacky book that takes place in the wacky school. We are reunited with many of the humorous characters that were featured in previous books, but this time, rather than short stories about each of the characters, the short chapters are interwoven as students are threatened by the Cloud of Doom bringing bad luck to the school. If you like stories with Spaghetti and feetballs, a teacher who is nuts about paper clips, a purple umbrella with green stripes (or a green umbrella with purple , stripes, jump rope arithmetic and a class project collecting a million finger and toenail clippings, this book’s for you.


Bea is a child of divorce and follows a structured weekly visits between mom and dad. Bea has a warm relationship with both parents: “You will always have a home with each of us is one of the items on the list of things that will not change. The big event her life is the upcoming gay marriage of her father and Jesse.  At last she will get a sister that she always wanted (even though Sonia lives on the other side of the country). Bea’s therapist Miriam,  helps the grade five girl to deal with any disturbing issues that come her way (mean girls, eczema, homophobia).  Rebecca Stead, author of Liar and Spy and When You Reach Me, understands and reveals the inner life of kids and this book title is yet another appealing read of life of a pre-teenage girl observed.

WAYS TO MAKE SUNSHINE by Renee Watson (ages 8-10)

Renee Watson grew up in Oregon. So did Beverly Cleary.  Cleary first brought the feisty, rascally Ramona to the children’s literature world in 1955 (Beezus and Romona) and today’s readers can now read about Ryan Hart, a black girl in grade 4 who certainly would have been friends with Ramona.  In Ways to Make Sunshine, Ryan’s troubles concern her family’s need to downsize and move into a new house, the challenge to do something special in the Grade 4 talent show, and a bothersome brother.  The family news announced at the end of the book screams ‘sequel’ and thousands and thousands readers ages 8 through 10 who love reading about  families, schools and friends are sure to delight in Ryan Hart’s further adventures. Just as they did in the 11 Ramona books.

SLIME by David Walliams

Every year, David Walliams brings forth a new riotous (rude) adventure novel.  He’s done it again with this book that takes place on the Isle of Mulch, population 999, where most of the adults loathe children. Those grown-ups include headmaster Sir Walter Wrath,  terrible twins Edmond and Edmond Envy, owner of the toyshop, Mr. Lust, deputy head of Mulch School for Revolting Children, Madame Solenzio Sloth, piano teacher and mega-rich Aunt Greta Greed. Ned, a boy whose legs haven’t worked on since he was a baby, is the hero of the story. When he accidently invents, SLIME, which has the superpower to transform into anything (a whale a trampoline, a motorbike, a flock of pigeons etc.) The fonts, and format of each and every page add visual delight as do Tony Ross’s abundant cartoonish illustrations. I am a Walliams fan (as are millions of other readers) and I always look forward to his new novel titles, and not just because of his inventive vocabulary that could be found in Williamsictionary.  (e.g., slird, slouney, p0ngtas,magporia, globettes, puketastic) What a cleverly creative, whackily wonky author that gets them reading (and chuckling).



WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed / Graphic biography

Omar Mohammed spent his childhood at the Dadaab camp in Kenya. He always had a goal to write about his experiences about being a refugee and a meeting with Graphic author, Victoria Jamieson resulted in this powerful book. Readers are given an inside visit into the hard times of a refugee camp as we learn about Omar and the devoted care he gives to his brother who his nonverbal brother Hassan. Stories of day to day dullness, hardships scrounging for food, bullying and haunting memories of Somalia. But Omar is determined to get an education and dreams for the day where he will be accepted to America. Omar now lives in Pennsylvania, working at a cente to help other refugees. This is an outstanding book and I dare the Newbery committee to give the award to a graphic biography two years in a row (e.g., New Kid). This book is deserved of awards. This book needs to be read.



Prairie Lotus by [Linda Sue Park]

PRAIRIE LOTUS by Linda Sue Park

A powerful story of prejudice and racism.  The story takes place in the Dakota territory in 1880 and we are in the world of Little House on the Prairie. Our protagonist is Hanna a girl who is half-Chinese and half-white who fondly remembers her mother who was half-Chinese and half-Korean who was killed in an ambush and who is determined to carry on her mother’s tradition of being a skillful dressmaker. When Hanna and her father  arrive in the town of La Forge to set up a dry goods business, they come upon neighbours who don’t want any neighbours who aren’t white themselves.  When children are kept away from their one-room school house because Hanna has enrolled in the class, the young teenager holds her head up high, determined to teach others to see beyond the surface. Hateful racist comments and an abuse incident challenge Hannah and her father to fit into the community.  Newbery Award winner Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard, A Long Walk to Water) has drawn from her early childhood experiences and her adoration of The Little House Stories to bring a sense of history and the immigrant experience  alive to “provide food for thought for all who read it, especially the young reader in whose hands the future lies.” (p. 256)

This title will be on my top five list of the year, I’m sure. And I predict another Newbery for Linda Sue Park (unless the committee gives it to When The Stars Are Scattered


I am staring at a pile of thirty or more titles that have been on my ‘to read’ list for the past couple of years. Isolation has given me the opportunity to dig into some nonfiction and fiction ‘grown up books’ to fill the days.  Here are some that have intrigued me over the past month. I still have piles to go before I sleep.



LITTLE FAITH by Nickolas Butler

Since reading Shotgun Lovesongs (2014), I have been a Nickolas Butler fan. The pictures he paints of characters, of communities, of nature, of clothing, of meals, and the hearts of men and women are folksy, poetic and reverent. Lyle Hovde is one of the strongest fictional characters I’ve encountered this year. A devout husband, father, grandpa and friend. the story is centred around faith. His adopted daughter Shiloh is heavily involved as a member of an extremist church.  She and the pastor of the church believe that her five year old son Isaac has been given the God-given ability to heal the sick, a belief that is shaken when Isaac becomes ill. This is a story of questioning faith, religious and/or otherwise. I read this novel in one day. I loved it!


One of my favourite novels in the past couple of years was Lawn Boy (2018) and after finishing it, I decided to purchase earlier titles by the author because since I enjoyed his storytelling, his  voice and humour. Since receiving three titles, they have been sitting in my ‘to read’ pile. I chose The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving (2012) to read first because of the promos on the back cover: ‘Funny, humane and a lot of fun.’  ‘It’s got a great big heart.” An entertaining picaresque* and a moving story of redemption’.  Poor Benjamin Benjamin: His days as a stay at home father have ended (due to tragedy); He is now on the brink of divorce; after taking a caregiving course, he has been hired to tend to the needs of a young adult man who with Muscular Distrophy. Things don’t seem to be going Benjamin’s way. A road trip throughout the midwest brings adventure and surprises and a sense of determination to make the most of what comes your way.  “Be ready to be ready. … Because no stable foundation, no act of will, no force of cautious habit will save you from this fact: nothing is indestructible.”(page 236). Yes, an enterrtaining picaresque story of redemption.  I look forward to reading other Evison titles. *picaresque = an episodic styule of fiction dealing with the adventure of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero.

KIT’S LAW by Donna Morrissey

It’s funny how good books come into your life. Last fall, I made a visit to St. John’s Newfoundland and my friend took me on a whirlwind trip to some fishing villages and the downtown area before I headed off to the airport. We stopped into a second-hand bookstore and Jan asked, “Have you ever read books by Donna Morrissey”.  Since, I hadn’t Jan gifted me with a $4.99 used copy KIT’S LAW (the author’s first novel) and it’s been sitting on my to read pile since October. I finished it this afternoon. What a great book! What a great Canadian author!  The fishing-village 1950’s setting is as strong a character as the vivid portrayal of a grandmother,  her mentally handicapped daughter and her teenage granddaughter, Kit. This is a story of despair and tragedy and longing and sin and murder. Anyone who loved the popular book Where The Crawdad Signs  by Delia Owens will recognize a kinship between that book’s character and Kit. Thanks Jan for introducing me to Morrissey. I’m sure I’ll read more books by her and perhaps buy other titles on my next visit to Newfoundland. Hopefully soon.



THE MAN IN THE RED COAT by Julian Barnes

This is a rich and detailed specimen of nonfiction writing illuminating the world of The Belle Epoque . The list of famous names spread throughout the book would fill a telephone directory of Parisian and British cultural elite from the late 1900 hundreds to the early 30th century (Proust, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Henry James, James Whistler). Society doctor, renowned gynecologist (and an adventurous private life of Samuel Pozzi binds this historical together. What a fascinating, detailed read of time and place and culture. Includes quite a number of photographs and coloured plates of famous portraits, including The Man in the Red Coat a striking portrait of Pozzi by John Singer Sargent. Mr. Barnes yo are a marvel, researcher and raconteur extraordinaire.


This 150-page book is presented as a letter from author to his adolescent son, digging deep onto the meaning of race and history. “What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a place to live within it?” is the question that drives the author’s force and truthful awakenings that seeks to find answers of the black man’s place in the world.  Every paragraph (perhaps  every sentence) (But race is the child of racism, not the father. And he process of naming “the people” has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. “(p. 7) in this book provokes profound thoughts drawn from history, personal narratives and reporting which Toni Morrison claims to be ‘required reading.’

GOING SOLO: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone by Eric Klinenberg

There’s some irony in the fact that I read this book during times of self-isolation but I’ve had this on my shelf for a while and now was as good as time as any to read about this examination of those who choose (and prefer) to live alone, and those whose life circumstances (widowhood, old age) force them to do so. Klinenberg is a professor of sociology at New York University and the writing of this book prompted him to drawn on extensive research with wide statistics and data including 300+ interviews with those who live solo, to help us think about the huge political, cultural and sociological shift over the past few decades of those who come to live ‘comfortably’ on their own, whatever their age or class or culture.  This is an in-depth analysis that helps the millions and millions across the world who go solo think about  marriage or being single, work and play,  freedom and independence, relying on the self (particularly as seniors)  loneliness and connectedness,  depending on others and needing others. And of course it helps those who don’t live solo to contemplate and understand those who find appeal in living alone.

GREEK TO ME by Mary Norris

Norris worked in the copy department for many years and would therefore be considered the maven of proper punctuation and grammar, and eventually be known as The Comma Queen. The author of Between You & Me has given us a book that reveals devotion to Greek words, Greek Gods,olive trees, ouzo and Greeks. Attention is given to the Greek alphabet and the surprising ways Greek helped form the English language. Norris is a deeply informed, engaging tour guide into the journey of all things Greek.

BEST KEPT BOY IN THE WORLD by Arthur Vanderbilt

Denham (Denny) Fouts’ clqim to fame was his role a socialite, muse and renowned male prostitute who hung around with princes, barons, tycoons, heirs, artists and a with authors as Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Christopher Isherwood was a notorious male prostitute. This slim book (155 pages) is a salute (worship?) to this extraordinary character. Not a very interesting read, other than the fact that it is what it is.

THIS PLACE: 150 Years Retold (Graphic text: nonfiction/ fiction)

Ten stories created  by Indigenous authors and illustrators, providing a history of known and unknown figures and events that tell a history that goes back 150 years. The graphic collection helps to illuminate the past, present and future of Indigenous communities and their battles to survive. The narratives are not always presented with clarity but the visuals are often strong and provide powerful imagery(frequently drawn from real-life photographs). Any of the stories can lead to further inquiry about the stories of people, places and time. “It tells tales of resistance, of leadership, of wonder and pain and pasts we must remember and futures we must keep striving towards planting each story like a seed deep inside from us ” (from the forward by Alice Elliott, p. vi)  A timeline of historical events is presented to introduce each of the stories. Suitable for adolescents and adults.

ONE DAY: The Extraordinary Story of An Ordinary 24 hours in America by Gene Weingarten

What do these events have in common? a heart transplant, a daughter and her boyfriend murder her parents, a Grateful dead concert, a man dies of AIDS, an abusive husband.  Each of these stories are centred on the Date of Sunday December 28, 1986.  Journalist, Gene Wiengarten digs into the past and chronicles events across America that took place on a specific date within a 24 hour period.  The target incidents leads to unravelling fascinating stories of love, murder, prejudice, fate and coincidence. What at first seems ordinary, indeed turns out to be extraordinary as we read about the relationships and behaviours and connections of a variety of humans.  Six years of research resulted in a series of 20 fascinating essays