MIDDLE YEAR BOOKS, published 2021

Have had quite an enjoyable time reading  novels for Middle Year Readers and am pleased to recommend three  of the eleven titles as ‘Shout Outs’!  Each of the characters in these novels help to define the word ‘resilience’.  I’m sure if these characters could assemble together in a club, they would feel comfortable sharing their school and family stories – and find comfort and hope with one another. 



 Kwame Alexander is the Newbery medal winner for his novel The Crossover, the story of two twin brothers, with remarkable basketball talents, inspired by their father who was a basketball hero. The novel, delivered in free verse format was terrific and I approached this new adaptation with some scepticism. Would the power of free-verse transform successfully as a graphic adaptation? Yes! Yes! Yes! The verbal text now has the value of using different font sizes and use of bold text. The strong narrative, the energetic visuals, the and the brilliant wordsmithing of Kwame Alexander make this an A+ adaptation, another terrific read about sports, family, brotherhood and aspiring to be the best you can. Highly recommended books in the series: Booked, Rebound and Playbook


Ever since meeting this terrific fictional teacher in the first novel, Because of Mr. Terupt, I have enjoyed reading about the special relationships amongst a. group of school friends and the special bond they have with Mr. Terupt, a caring teacher. The format of this book remains the same as we go through a school year, and month by month each student reflects on the events of their lives. The multi-voiced approach, is very appealing, different perspectives about the same events in short passages. In this fourth book in the series, Mr. Terupt is moving his family to a new location which means he is leaving his school and his beloved group of seven. Some intriguing adventures await these friends: The Babysitter’s Gang who take care of baby Hope Terupt, a science investigation into the life of cows (and the birth of calves), wrestling matches, combatting breast cancer, a fundraising event (Polar Plunge),  dealing with diabetes, a. wedding, a family re-united, and yes, boy/girl off-again-on-gain infatuations. It was quite moving for these middle-school students (and the readers) to say good-bye to Mr. Terupt.


Zinnia’s brother., Gabriel  is diagnosed as Bipolar and her parents insist that the news be kept private. As Zinnia is bothered by the stress Gabriel’s story has on her family, and staying with the ‘stay silent’ rule, the 12 year-old must keep her feelings hidden from friends and family.  Helping  her science teacher with a crayfish project a partaking (somewhat reluctantly )in Lunch Group sessions with other troubled tweenager, supported by a caring guidance counsellor, Zinnia finds an outlet to deal with her emotions.  This is a moving story about how Mental Health can effect a family and how a young gains self-worth and grows in understanding how relationships are tricky and how they matter.  Highly recommended. 


I finished this book yesterday afternoon and it is staying with me. I’m still thinking about the courageous attempts the main character Ellie , a fat gir, to gain self-worth while being taunted by the words, ‘whale’ . I’ve read many novels about bullying but the cruelty of  mean girls, a brother and especially Ellie’s mother is heartbreaking. As I read this novel, I wondered how fat people would react to the plight of this 12 year old girl. I wondered how thinner people would emotionally connect to Ellie.  Ellie tries to live by ‘Fat Girl Rules’ but family and society’s fat-obsessed values almost defeat her. Almost. Meetings with a therapist , a new friendship with neighbour and swimming like a starfish in her backyard pool help to ease things for the character.  But oh those mean comments by mean girls and oh that mean mother, oblivious to her daughter’s feelings, parading around messages of diets and bariatric surgery.  make this an emotional read.  Starfish is a powerful read for tweenagers who are made to feel unworthy and struggle to gain confidence and move forward. BONUS: the book is told in free verse style which helps to make each page or spread add punch to the narrative. “They think i’m unhappy because I’m fat. / The truth is I’m unhappy because they bully me about being fat.”

SHOUT OUT: FLYING OVER WATER by Shannon Hitchcock & N.H. Senzai

Noura’s Syrian family is granted asylum inTampa Florida. When she and her twin brother enter grade 7 they encounter prejudice and adversity which spreads throughout the community. Jordyn and her family  becomes a dear friends to Noura and her family. The two friends are joined by each of their fears. Because her best friend drowned while fleeing Syria, Noura is terribly afraid to enter the water. Jordyn, an expert swimmer is smothered by anxiety attacks. The story takes place in the wake of 2017 Muslim ban in the U.S. A school project about citizenship, the challenge of finding a safe space to say daily prayers, and ‘go back to where you came from’ prejudice against refugees are significant events that help readers contemplate political, religious and differences. References to real-life situations of intolerance are filtered throughout the book. Told in alternating voices, Flying Over Water is a very fine book about the refugee/ immigrant experience. 

BEING PETE by Noelle Jack

The setting is Montreal, 1950’s. 12 year old Natalie has a dream of meeting cowboy hero Tex, and when a contest is advertised, Natalie excitedly enters, but alas tells some a few lies about her family and her best friend’s uncle. One untruth leads to another and Natalie and Rhoda set on an adventure to help Uncle Billy, who struggles with PTSD. The web of lies/untruths that Natalie gets herself into is an important moral issue that readers can learn from In her heart, Natalie felt that her fibs were justified, especially when she learns that the contest was only open to boys and she pretends to be ‘Pete’.  Exploring gender identity is another important issue filtered through this engaging novel. Highly recommended. 

MAYBE MAYBE MARISOL RAINEY by Erin Entrada Kelly:Chapter Book /ages 8-10

Newbery Award winning author Erin Entrada Kelly has introduced a new cat-loving character that will appeal to young chapter book readers, particularly if they identify with a character who is sensitive and fearful. Marisol is afraid of the dark, scary dogs, bossy classmates. When her family moves to a new home, she seems to be fond  with the backyard tree (which she named Peppina, after an old movie character Poor Little Peppina starring Mary Pickford) and even though it is a perfect climbing tree, Marisol is too afraid to climb it. Someday she will.. maybe! Last page announces: “Be on the lookout for more adventures with Marisol’ who is sure to appear in a new series by Kelly.  Hooray!

THE MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE of AIDAN S (as told to his brother) by David Levithan

This is a winner of a read. David Levithan is a great storyteller. In the opening chapters to this novel, we learn about the disappearance of 12 year-old Aidan and how his vanishing frightens and burdens his family, community and the police. But suddenly, Aidan reappears. Where did he go? Why? Aidan tells his brother, Lucas about travelling through a dresser into the attic to a fantasy community called Aveinieu where the sky is green and leaves are blue and unicorns and strange animals abound.  Is this true? Is this possible? What’s brilliant about this mystery story is how readers (and the characters) must suspend disbelief to accept what, in normal worlds, would seem impossible.  Is escaping to a fantasy world only the stuff of fiction? How can we convince others that the unbelievable is to be believed? The novel is told in 45 fairly short chapters and is a very intriguing clever addition to Levithan’s list of terrific books. (Every Day; Someday; Will Grayson; Will Grayson; Wide Awake.)

ANCESTOR APPROVED: Intertribal stories for kids by Cynthia Leitich  Smith (ed.) (short stories)

16 short stories and 2 poems written by  new and veteran Indigenous authors. Each contemporary story is set at the Dance for Mother Earth Powwow in Ann Arbor Michigan. Each story is as much about the people as high school gym setting that fills with colourful  and song and dance and beadwork and fry bread. Reading the interconnecting stories in this collection help readers to grasp the strength of community and pride of Native people. 

Raised with powwows, or not.

We are all connected.

Coming together.

Like circles.

~~~(excerpt from the poem ‘Circles’ by Carole. Lindstrom 

THE GOOD WAR by Todd Strasser

Middle School. Extra curricular club: eSports. Video Game playing (The Good War): Two teams: The Axis and the Allies.  When new computers arrive at the school, a group of grade 7. students are. eager to participate in the after-school club. What starts off as a friendly competition, turns into a shocking (and scary) battle when one team takes the activity too far by imitating Nazi soldiers.  The game offers the opportunity for this group of students to learn some history and truths about World War II and the Holocaust.  The book offers the readers the opportunity to think about empathy and friendship loyalties, empathy and hate speech.. There is much fiction that deals with bullying and mean kids. But this is a strong  book for young adolescents deals with being caught in the web of white supremacy and online safety and now prejudices. An engaging story. A powerful story. .   

THE FABULOUS ZED WATSON by Basil Sylvester and Kevin Sylvester

Zed Watson becomes enthralled with the mystery of an unpublished novel called The Monster’s Castle. They and his flora-loving friend, Gabe embark on a road trip with Gabe’s sister who is heading back to college in Arizona. The journey is filled with adventures that includes a broken down car, opera, a dance competition, a stuffed jackalope, a strange library and many stops for ice cream. Lead by a batch of cryptic clues, Zed and Gabe’s wild adventures leads them to some intriguing discoveries. Special to this book is the ‘fabulous’ nonbinary Zed Watson and a cast of original characters that includes queer, trans. and other nonbinary characters. Many kids will enjoy and laugh at the madcap adventures of two ‘nerdy’ characters created by a dynamic writing duo.


SHOUT OUT: Bookflap.ca

Four talented and popular Canadian female authors Vicki Grant, Teresa Toten, Marthe Jocelyn and Kathy Kacer, have produced website BookFlap which ‘taps into the wisdom of writers, illustrators, publishers, editors, readers and educators by offering interviews, mini master classes, art demonstrations, podcasts, articles etc.Insights into telling and selling your stories is another feature shared by the authors. Thanks for including my article i about choosing Canadian children’s literature title to explore Holocaust History your first “Read Good Stuff” posting. 

Bravo to Bookflap. Bravo this mighty group of four!