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!


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.


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.


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.

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
and all the moments in your life that would matter…


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! 


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.


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. 


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.


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. 


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!


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. 



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!

Announced on October 30, 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. 




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 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.


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.



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




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.



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”!



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

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.



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



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)




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).




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.


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.


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.



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!

Who has more wrinkles than a hedgehog?

An iguana.

Who is more wobbly than an iguana?

A quail.

Who has…



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.


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.”)



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

GROWN UP READS: Summer 2020

Listed below are ten ‘adult’  titles I’ve read over the past month or so:

fiction x 3 / memoir x 2 / poetry anthology x2 / short story anthology x 1 /  novella x 1 /  travelogue x 1

SAILING ALONE AROUND THE ROOM: New an selected poems by Billy Collins

The anthology is divided into five sections (1988/1991/1995/1998/new poems and I chose to read one section / day this week. I turned down the corners of about 15 poems which, I’d say is a pretty good roster in a collection of 100 + poems. Thanks to my friend Bob for the birthday gift.

from Days

Each one is a gift, no doubt,

mysteriously placed in your waking hand

or set upon your forehead

moments before you open your eyes.

POETRY 180: A turning back to poetry by Billy Collins (editor) / poetry

From the introduction: “The idea behind this printed collection, which is a version of the Library of Congress “180” website, was to a generous selection of short, clear, contemporary poems which nay listener could basically ‘get” on first hearing – poems whose injection of pleasure is immediate.? Are you kidding me, Mr. Collins??? If the intent is to remove torment from adolescent readers encountering poems (read/ listened), then this collection mystified me, not only for the choice of poems but for it’s vision to ‘beckon people back to poetry them a variety of poems that might snag their interest. For me, far removed from adolescenthood, I caught the meaning very few of the poems on first read.  Oh, how I love the idea of a poem a day. but I would say that most of these poems need deeper contemplation, collaborative dialogue, and a forum to share  “I wonder…”  thoughts.  I chronologically read 20 poems a day over a two week period and concur with a statement borrowed from Fran Liebowitz’s musical aesthetics: ‘Good poems are poems are poems I like and bad poems are poems I don’t like’. Perhaps a re-read is in order. Perhaps not. 

I wonder what high school students would think? I wonder what poems they would gather together for a Poetry 180 collection.

LOVE by Roddy Doyle

Two guys go into a bar and talk and talk and talk. (and drink and drink and drink).  Doyle has reader eavesdrop on the conversations of Davy and Joe who have been drinking pass since their youth. Stories abound about girls of their dreams, first-encounters, kids, separation from wives, loss of parents, and pub journeys in Dublin. What do we remember from the past?, what is important to remember? Who do we tell these stories to seems to be central to the themes of this book, as is the multi-faceted forms that love can take throughout our lives. Hang in there.. the novel eventually packs an emotional punch at the end of the night of drinking and talking, drinking and talking.

ALL MADE UP by Janice Galloway / memoir

This title is the sequel to the author’s memoir about growing up in small-townScotland.   Here Gillespie shares memories of her adolescent puberty years which involves boyfriends, academics and a devotion to playing music.  Once again we meet her stoical mother and her domineering older sister. I preferred the earlier title but sometimes when you learn about the struggles of a character you are intrigued to learn how a character’s  evolves and moves on against the odds..

OPENING DOORS: A memoir by Mehak Jamil

This memoir outlines the journey of a Muslim woman as she digs into her past to confront the traumas of growing up. The book is presented in alternating timelines: Childhood,  Undergrad, Twenty-something which allows the author to dig into experiences with her family and then with her university education experiences, therapy sessions and reflections from a twenty-something adult. Mehak’s Master’s research focussed on how teacher-student relationships can help build resiliency in students who have experienced childhood abuse and neglect. Mehak Jamil received her Masters of Teaching degree from OISE and her book Opening Doors is a story of resilience and through personal narrative and reflection,  ‘teaches’ readers about the effect of being berated and harmed by a parent.

THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING by Colum McCann / novella

An elderly Jewish named Mendelssohn, a retired judge,   living in the Upper East Side of Manhattan with the help of a caregiver decides to dine out at a local posh restaurant where he will meet his son for lunch. After te meal, Mendlessohn leaves the restaurant and is attacked. The case to find out who the attacker was is unravelled by detectives who depend on events being captured by cameras.  Life appears differently from different angles. Each chapter in the short novella (143 pages) is introduced by a stanza from Wallace Stevents poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at A Blackbird.”  I treasure this statement, “Just as a poem turns its reader into accomplice, so, too, the detectives become accomplice to the murder”.  Readers as accomplice – brilliant! I so admired APEIROGON by this author, that I’ve since been meaning to dip into his other books. I will soon get around to Let The Great World Spin which has been sitting on my shelf for a while and I ordered 4 more titles from Amazon. August should be Colum McCann month for Larry.

THE BOOK OF MEN edited by Column McCann (short stories)

This anthology is a collection of 80 original short short stories (maximum 3 pages per piece) created by male and female writers from across the globe. Stories are presented, without titles, in alphabetical order by author. The essential question that inspired each story was to address “what it means to be a man and how to live up to that responsibility” (introduction). The anthology was written in honour of Esquire Magazine’s eightieth anniversary (2013) and Narrative 4 whose mission is to ‘use storytelling as a means to  understand ourselves and one another. (introduction).  I read every story sequentially, and like most short story and poetry collections some work better for me than others. Many of the narratives left me rather puzzled. That’s OK.  I turned down the corners on a handful of favourite selections (i.e, Michael Cunningham,  Elinor Lipman, Edna O’ Brien).

SUCH A FUN AGE by Kiley Reid

This is a story about a rich white woman, Alix Chamberlain  and her relationship with her twenty-five-year old babysitter, Emira Tucker. A “Reeses” Bookclub featured title. The novel begins with an episode at a supermarket where Emira, who is taking care of the Chamberlain child, is accused of kidnapping the two year old child. The event was captured on video but Emira is determined to keep it hidden. She is determined to find a better life for herself in terms of finding a job, a suitable place to live and love. This is a story about  class and race, power and ambition. It is also a story about how challenging it is to shake off the past where what has happened to us is hard to shake off. Those who enjoyed Little Fires Everywhere may like this, dare I say “woman’s book.”

SOMETHING’S FISHY IN ITALY by Steven Tencati / nonfiction

Some of my favourite trips have been to Italy.  This travel guide takes readers through a journey with the author and his wife’s as they adventure through Sicily, Sardinia,Rome, Tuscany and Cinque Terre etc. .  Experiences with food, hotels, , touring churches and castles and getting directions offer  reminiscencesabout times spent travelling in Italy or a motivation to visit La Bella Italia. I felt that I was ‘there’ when reading about places I’ve been so lucky to have visited. And hope to perhaps see again sometime. Maybe.


HAMNET by Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
Rave reviews abound. My friend Debbie raved about this novel. My friend Eleanor raved about this novel. The author was inspired by the unknown death of Hamnet, son of William Shakespeare , in 1956. O’Farrell invents details about the life and cause of death pestilence).of Hamnet and his symbiotic relationship  his twin sister, Judith, his father who is working in London and his mother, a central character of the story, who is gathers medicinal herbs and heals village members. The setting of the story predominates whether we are taken into forests, meet the family in their homes, visit the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon or journey to London in the 1600’s.  This is a book where the research and detail astonishes as much as the depiction of the devotion, marriage, and profound grief.. Every every sentence is beautifully crafted: She (Agnes) takes in the thatched eves of Hewlands, to her right, the white scree of cloud overhead, the restless branches of the forest, to her left, the swarm of bees in the apple trees.”  “He feels again the sensation he has had all his life: that she is the others side to him, that they fit together, him abd her, like two halves of a walnut.” NOTE: There are different cover versions of this novel, and in some cases, the book t goes by the title HAMNET and JUDITH

YA SUMMER 2020: Focus on Black Identity

The titles in this listing provide perspectives by Black authors on the Black experience, helping readers to contemplate Black identity, The Black Lives Matters movement, past, present and future through fiction and nonfiction.  It is interesting to note that many of these titles were written before 2020, when in fact these books sharpen understanding of what is happening in the world today. 


CLAP WHEN YOU LAND by Elizabeth Acevedo (free verse)

This free verse novel tells the story of two Dominican sisters, Camino and Yahaira, who didn’t know they were siblings until the tragic death of their father in an airplane crash. Papi kept a secret life both in New York and the Dominican Republic. The two sisters are forced into coming to terms a new connection, a reflection of reality and dreams, and an a new understanding of the past, the present and the future, a new connection and a reflection of reality and dreams.  The book is presented in alternating voices, each with a singular poetry format. (Camino = 3 line verses; Yahaira in two line verses. Acevedo writes: ‘I wanted a more intimate portrayal of what it means to discover secrets, to discover the depths of your own character in the face of great loss – and gain.”

FELIX EVER AFTER by Kacen Callendar

Felix Love is very concerned about falling in love. Felix is black, queer and transgender. He is proud of his identity but also confused about what it means to be true to themself and what it means to accept love when it is offered to you.   Their  questionings are stretched through a somewhat troubled relationship with theirsingle father, through evolving feelings  with Declan who was considered an enemy but now holds strong potential as a boyfriend. and through a deep relationship with friend, Ezra.  When Felix receives hateful transphobic messages, their feelings about honesty and secrets and acceptance become further complicated. Felix is however a talented artist which provides him with an opportunity to express himself.  Award-winning author, Kacen Callender (Hurricane Child, King and the Dragonflies) tells stories from a place of authenticity. They hope that a reader who picks up this book ‘learns more about themselves and their identity and that becoming who they truly are is a possibility’. Felix Ever After that will support and change lives of many adolescent readers.


Like the novels, The Hate You Give and All American Boys, this title brings a strong perspective to police brutality on Black youth. Marvin and Tyler Johnson are two twins living in Alabama and one night chaos ensues and Tyler disappears. Teenage parties. Gangs. Police raids. Courtroom trials. Protests. Father in prison. Moreover, there is Marvin and Tyler’s anguish when Tyler goes missing.  Though the world of teenager, Marvin, Jay Coles gives voice to systemic racism white supremacy,  and dreams of a better future. (“I tell myself that I love this skin, that i’ve always loved my blackness, that if the world doesn’t love me, I will love myself for the both of us.”)

A FEW RED DROPS: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 by Claire Hartfield (Nonfiction)

Poet, Carl Sandburg in the poem I am the People, The Mob wrote” “Sometimes I grown, shake myself and spatter a few drops of red for history to remember. Then – I forget.”  This nonfiction title provides readers with the story of Black and white immigrants who each sought a better life in city of Chicago. Against all odds, they worked in the busy stockyards, each race being pitted against each other by the rich who controlled the labor market. An incident that involved the drowning of a teenage Black boy who was struck by a white boy, launches the race riot of 1919 where 38 men of both races died and 537 more were wounded. The well-researched book, accompanied by photographs, tells a powerful story of racial justice – that continues to modern times. History needs to be remembered.

THIS BOOK IS ANTI-RACIST 20 lessons on how to wake up, take action and do the work by Tiffany Jewell; illus. Aurelia Durand (Nonfiction)

The intention of this book is to empower young people to stand up for what is right.  The book is a comprehensive guide that provides definitions, histories and questions that help students consider their own identities as they work towards ending racism. Activities that invite written responses to key questions, help students to consider the journey they are on to resist racism. This book is presented in 20 chapters, organized by 4 sections (1. Understanding and Growing Into My Identities; Making Sense of the World; Taking Action and Responding to Racism; Working in Solidarity Against Racism. A glossary offers definitions of terms that adolescents may or not be familiar with (e.g., agency, ethnicity, Folx of the Global Minority). Brightly-coloured illustrations make the pages come alive, often highlighting the text and quotations on offer (“When you know better, do better.” / Maya Angelou.

ALL BOYS AREN’T BLUE: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson (Nonfiction)

Activist George M. Johnson digs into his memories of growing up Black and queer in America, telling his stories of family, gender identity, virginity, racism and homophobia to help teenagers who may have to navigate similar experiences in their own lives. Johnson writes, “I believe that the dominant society establishes an idea of what ‘normal’ is simply to suppress difference which means that any of us who fall outside of their ‘normal’ will eventually be oppressed.” (p. 6) (NOTE: the novel King of the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender is an engaging fictional title about a black boy coming to terms with his gay identity).

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.

IF YOU COME SOFTLY by Jacqueline Woodson (YA)

This novel by Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award Winner Jacqueline Woodson was first published in 1998. In the preface to the 20th anniversary edition, Ella, a white Jewish teenager living in Manhattan, falls in love with Jeremiah (Miah) a black boy who lives in Brooklyn with his famous parents. Though they come from different worlds, they fall deeply in love despite a world that seems unsettled by interracial relationships. Woodson writes (2018), “What I didn’t know was that the book I was writing in the mid-nineties would only continue to resonate with many but would become relevant to more and more people as the use of social media grew, as groups like Black Lives Matter formed, as the cases of police brutality skyrocketed. I didn’t know a story I was writing about two young people falling in love would continue to be about so much more.” If You Come Softly is story of privilege and race that seems to resonate even more in current time than it did in 1998, 2018.

BEHIND YOU by Jacqueline Woodson (YA)

This is the companion book to If You Come Softly. (spoiler alert) Jeremiah looks down from the afterlife on the friends and family who are trying to cope with the grief of his loss. This short novel (118 pages) is told in short chapters through different voices that we met in the first novel, Ellie, the white girl who so loved Jeremiah, Nelia his mother who is struggling to write again, Carlton his best friend who is coming to terms with being gay, and Kennedy, a star basketball player. This is a good ‘companion novel’ for readers who enjoyed the first book and want to contemplate how people move on after losing the person they have deeply loved.

BLACK ENOUGH: Stories of Being Young & Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi (short stories/ YA)

This is a collection of 17 short stories, realistic fiction by acclaimed Black YA authors. These teenagers and young adults come from different social classes, different family circumstances, and different sexual preferences. I read this anthology chronologically and enjoyed every story which helped me delve into stories of being Black in America. Stories include three friends talking about their favourite sandwich creations ( ‘The Ingredients’ by Jason Reynolds); infatuation (‘Hackathon Summers’, by Coe Booth); same sex relationships (‘Kissing Sarah Smart’ by Justina Ireland) inappropriate nude pictures at a church retreat (‘Stop Playing’ by Liara Tamani) and hairstyles o (‘Half a Moon’ by Renee Watson). Editor, Ibi Zoboi writes “my hope is that Black Enough will encourage all Black teens to be their free, uninhibited selves without the constraints of being Black, too Black or not Black enough. They will simply be enough just as they are.” (p. xiv)



MARCH by John Lewis with Andrew Aydin; illus. by Nate Powell (graphic biography)

This book 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 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.


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

JOHN ROBERT LEWIS (February  21, 1940 – July 17, 2020)

“Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life, I have done all i can to demonstrate that way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”

(from  Lewis’s final words published, July 30, 2020, before his funeral was to start)

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)