The list of ten titles below provides quite a range of settings and plots – and characters, i.e., A member of Hitler youth, an Indigenous orphan, a mediaeval heroine, a ultra-shy tweenager, a Muslim boy who is a robot fanatic, a megamonstger, a fantasy (real?) friend.
UNDER THE IRON BRIDGE by Kathy Kacer
Kathy Kacer is a very special author who brings Holocaust history to today’s middle-age+ readers. She does her research. She is an expert storyteller. Kathy Kacer is a model author of historical fiction. The setting of this book is Dusseldorf, Germany 1938. The story is centred on Paul who is under pressure to join the Hitler Youth which challenges his ethical beliefs and leads to some decisions that has an impact on those who are important to him including school friends, parents and Jews. Kacer presents the true story of the rebel group known as the Edelweiss Pirates who were set out to undermine Nazi t power. Kacer has written over 20 books that focus on stories of the Holocaust ( The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, The Brave Princess and Me, The Brushmaker’s Daughter, Broken Strings (with Eric Walters). I’m so fond of this new book, not only because it emotionally took me into the history and cruelty of Nazi threats but it was a story of taking the courage to stand up and fight for what you believe in, a theme that resonates for today’s and tomorrow’s generation. “I am a passionate advocate for stories about the Holocaust. I think the lesson we can learn – lessons about hatred and power, but also lessons about compassion, strength, and selflessness – are lessons for the ages?” (from Teaching Tough Topics, 2020, page 69)
THE BARREN GROUNDS: BOOK ONE of THE MISEWA SAGA by David A. Robertson
Publisher’s synopsis: Narnia meets traditional Indigenous stories of the sky and constellations in an epic middle-grade fantasy series from award-winning author David Robertson.
Morgan and Eli, two Indigenous children forced away from their families and communities, are brought together in a foster home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They each feel disconnected, from their culture and each other, and struggle to fit in at school and at their new home — until they find a secret place, walled off in an unfinished attic bedroom. A portal opens to another reality, Askí, bringing them onto frozen, barren grounds, where they meet Ochek (Fisher). The only hunter supporting his starving community, Misewa, Ochek welcomes the human children, teaching them traditional ways to survive. But as the need for food becomes desperate, they embark on a dangerous mission. Accompanied by Arik, a sassy Squirrel they catch stealing from the trapline, they try to save Misewa before the icy grip of winter freezes everything — including them.
THE BEATRYCE PROPHECY by Kate DiCamillo; illus. Sophie Blackall
I only need to see Kate DiCamillo’s name on a book cover to know that I’m in for a good read. I’m so fond of her books (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Raymie Nightingale, The Tale of Desperaux, Flora and Ulysses) that I looked forward – and enjoyed reading this new novel, where a goat has to look out for herself and the wounded child in her care. Beatryce is a young girl hunted by the prophecy of a king that who feels threatened by being unseated by her. A cast of characters, (A timid monk, an orphan boy, a bearded stranger) a part of the tale of discovery, tragedy and love. “Love her is built on the deceptively simple belief that other beings in the world are fully our equals, sharing the same inherent worth, with as much right to life and joy, – with sorrow a certain outcome for us all.” (Naomi Novik, New York Times, review, Sept 19, 2021). I agree with the Novik’s review when she says that Beatryce, ‘both the character and the book, are easy to love’. As is the author, Kate DiCamillo.
BLACK BOY JOY (edited by Kwame Mbalia) (short stories)
A collection of 17 stories celebrating black boyhood, each written by an acclaimed Black male author. Stories include a nonbinary gender reveal, an intergalactic adventure, first love composing a song, a tribute to black boy joy told in graphic stylec and a jar filled with bubbles of joy to be spread around.
50 WAYS TO SCORE A GOAL: And other football poems by Brian Bilston (poetry)
A collection of 60 funny, informative and whacky poems about those who are enamoured with football (i.e. SOCCER) and/or POETRY. I’m fond of this poet’s work and very pleased he’s published an appealing anthology for young readers. An array of rhyming and non-rhyming poetic forms. Some poem titles: Football is…; Keepie-Uppies; A Ball Speaks Out; Every Day is Like a Cup Final Lucky Bobble Hat and 11 Football Haikus….
We’ve signed a legend.
He is half-human, half horse.
Plays centaur forward.
HOME HOME by Lisa Allen-Agostini (ages 12+)
Fourteen year old Kayla suffers from clinical depression and anxiety disorder. After being hospitalized for a suicide attempt in Trinidad, her mother sends her daughter to Canada where she lives with her lesbian Aunt and her partner. Life in Edmonton is very different for this black girl but a loving family, new friends and counselling give Kayla hope for a better future as well as a resistance to return Home Home to a life and culture she is accustomed to. This short novel (149 pages) is a powerful story that exposes Mental Health Issues through the eyes of an adolescent who suffers from anxiety attacks.
THE KALEDIOSCOPE by Brian Selznick
There’s no doubt that Brian Selznick is one of the most dazzling illustrators of children’s literature, renowned for his heavily visual books (The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruick, The Marvels). His images interweave fantasy and reality worlds. Kaleidoscope is a collection of 24 short stories, each no more than 8 pages, each a memory, each a mystery, each a dream (correct me if I’m wrong but the word ‘dream’ appears in each (all) of the narratives. The book is divided into three sections, Morning, Afternoon, Evening but those divisions don’t particularly seem to add to the sequencing of narrative events. I was a somewhat frustrated trying to relate the stories to one another and didn’t really settle in to what Selznick was attempting until I encountered the second section (Afternoon). A character named James, beloved by the narrator provides a link to the tales, but did James really exist? Is he a fantasy friend? Surprise magical events, many questions, left to be answered by the reader’s mind and imagination. For me, Kaleidoscope stands on the shoulders of the brilliant The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg who presented staggering black and white images accompanied only by a title and one line of text. In this collection, each story is introduced by an enlarged kaleidscopic black and white design fragment (no colour needed) followed by a pictoral image related to the tale to be told (e.g. a key, a sliced apple, a tunnel gate, an angel. Unlike, Van Allsburg, Selznick gives us stories to accompany his art and chapter titles which provide invitation enough to step into imagined worlds: A Trip to the Moon; The Spirit Machine; The Last Time it Happened; The Museum, The Lightning-Struck Tree; The Book of Dreams, The Mind of God.
As I worked, certain themes and images kept reappearing: Gardens and butterflies, apples, angels, fires, trees, friendship, islands, keys, shipwrecks, grief and love. That’s why I decided to call this new version of the book Kaleidoscope, because each of these elements, like a bit of colored glass, turn and transform and rearrange themselves into something new. And like looking into a kaleidoscope, the view is alway changing and only you can see it.”
LILY’S PROMISE by Kathryn Erskine
Lily is a very shy, anxious 11 year=old who made a promise to her dying father to ‘Strive for Five’ to stand up and speak up five times because he said that each time, it would get easier. After being homeschooled Lily attends public school and the experience will test her courage – and promise. Newfound friends, curling-loving Hobart and recently-immigrated, Dunya, give Lily support and hope as she is challenged to find a place to belong, even with the threats of the school bully. Kathryn Erskine not only provides a narrative of mental well-being, but deals with Islamophobia, the immigrant experience (Dunya’s father was a translator in Afghanistan), poverty, and social relationships of pre-adolescent students. The school election takes up the final portion of the story. A clever device the author introduces is that of the character of LIBRO who comments on the way the author tells the story. Libro’s metacognitive observations are interwoven between each of the novel’s narrative chapters. Lily’s Promise good example of realistic fiction of the times as well as universal insights into the desire to be included and stand up for what you believe in.
MEGAMONSTER by David Walliams
David Walliams has a formula to his books. That’s not a bad thing. Preposterous, ludicrous, wild characters caught in preposterous, ludicrous wild adventures. The setting of THE CRUEL SCHOOL with cruel teachers provides a backdrop for hilarious and some would say thrilling events that include, a secret cave, a Monsterfication Machine, sharks, lava, an evil cat, a lady in a drawer, and a giant, green stick Bogey Man and a Monster Gang (Dino Girl, Giant Jelly, Meteor Man, Glug Monster, Atomic Amoeba). The plot: Larker is determined to take on Megamonster save Cruel School students from the wicked Doctor Doktur. Fun fonts, lively, thrilling Tony Ross illustrations, fast-paced dialogue and gross ingredients are part of the Walliams formula. This one wasn’t my favourite.. but I’m eager to read whatever comes next from the Walliams and associates.
YUSUF AZEEM IS NOT A HERO by Saadia Faruqi
Yusuf, a young Muslim Boy lives in a small town in Texas and living in a small town in Texas is not always easy. As he begins Middle School, he is assaulted with hate messages in his locker. You suck says one note: Go home says another. Who would do this? Why? Yusuf and his family (his father runs a dollar store) just want to live peacefully amongst their neighbours but The Patriot Sons are determined to take back the town; to take back the country. How should the Muslim community revolt against those who want them to “Go Home” when America is their home? Yusuf’s involvement in the regional robotics competition lifts shows him to be a committed, collaborative student. Saadia Faruqi introduces a journal written by Yusuf’s uncle describing the fears and anxieties of Muslims following the 9/11 terrorist attack. Journal entries, which are spread throughout the novel, help Yusuf to learn about history and to understand that hatred has been and continues to be a part of society. This book is highly recommended to learn about the culture and identity of Muslims and the shadow and threat of Islamophobia.
NOTE: The following list of recommended was prepared to accompany a webinar presntation on October 4, 2021 for the Association of Jewish Librarians – Canada. Panel included, Sydell Waxman , Larry Swartz, Kathy Kacer.
COMBATING ANTISEMITISM THROUGH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE
Monday October 4, 2021
AJL-CANADA /Website: http://www.ajl-canada.org/
KATHY KACER / firstname.lastname@example.org
LARRY SWARTZ / email@example.com / WEBSITE: Dr. Larry Recommends
SYDELL WAXMAN / firstname.lastname@example.org
STORIES Of ANTISEMITISM
Changing the Pattern by Sydell Waxman
The Incident at Massena by Saul S. Friedman
Jacob and the Mandolin Adventure by Anne Dublin
My Mannequins by Sydell Waxman, illustrated by Patty Gallinger
Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon, illustrated by Mark Siegel
When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest, illustrated by P.J. Lynch
PICTURE BOOKS: Jewish Identity and Culture
The Chanukah Noel: A true story by Sharon Jennings; Illus. Gillian Newland
Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup by Pamela Mayer; illus. Deborah Melman
Chik Chak Shabbat by Mara Rockliff; illus. Kyrsten Brooker
Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco
Saving Lady Liberty by Claudia Friedell; illus. Stacy Innerst
ANTISEMITISM: Middle Years Fiction (ages 11-14) 2021
Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh
The Good War by Todd Strasser
Linked by Gordon Korman
Wednesday Wars Gary D. Schmidt (2007)
What We’re Scared Of by Keren David
KATHY KACER: Recent Titles
The Brave Princess and Me, illus. Juliana Kolesova (picture book: Second Story Press)
Broken Strings (with Eric Walters) (Penguin Random House)
The Brushmaker’s Daughter (Second Story Press)
Louder than Words (Annick Press)
Under the Iron Bridge (Second Story Press)
The Poisonous Mushroom (Der Giftpitz) (1938) by Ernest Heimer; illus. Philipp Rupprecht (Nazi Propoganda)
Teaching Tough Topics: How do I use children’s literature to build a deeper understanding of social justice, equity, diversity by Larry Swartz (Pembroke Publishers)