MIDDLE YEARS FICTION + 2 (NF): Summer reading 2021

A mixture of fiction, some more suitable for young adolescents. Interesting that three books have text to text connections with hate messages (e.g. anti-semitism).  (What We’re Scared Of; Linked: Most of the titles have something in common by presenting  race and cultural diversity (Chunky:Home Home; Finding June Kim; Once Upon an Eid: Stamped (nonfiction).  I admired each of the characters in each of the novels, because they helped to illuminate the challenges and stresses (and joys) of growing up and finding a place of belonging within family and home.  The nonfiction title Stamped, is a very important read! 


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.

WHAT WE’RE SCARED OF by Karen David (ages 12+)

British author, Karen David has written centred on young teenagers dealing with Anti-Semitism. 14-year old twin sisters, very unalike in attitudes and outlooks on life,  are the protagonists of the novel. Tehy share a home life with an unspoken Jewish background that drives the story foreword, particularly when experiencing online trolling, physical anti-Semitic attacks and disturbing conspiracy theories.  One twin, Evie, eventually learns of their mother’s Jewish origin but initially refuses o make Judaism part of her life. The other sister, Lottie, makes friends iwth a Jewish friend at school and is motivated to learn about and embrace Jewish ways of life.  Towards the end of the book, David includes the real-life experiences of Mala Tribich, one of Britain’s best-known Holocaust survivors in the novel. Tribich’s story is told as a speech presented to a crowd at a Museum. What We’re Scared of is an extremely engaging read that can help Jewish teens feel proud about their Jewish identity. For non-Jewish readers, David writes “I’d like to create allies and have people think about anti-Semitism, and educate themselves about Israel and Judaism. There is so much ignorance. And there are also bigger questions about what fear does to us. Fear create prejudice and anxiety – and we don’t like to talk about it very much.”  Highly recommended. 

Shout out!   LINKED by Gordon Korman

Chapter one of this book opens with the startling news that a swastika has been painted on the walls of a small town middle school. Who would do such a hateful thing? How will the tolerance programs help students understand that “THERE IS NO PLACE FOR HATE.”  The chapters in Linked tell the story through the different viewpoints of a number of grade 7 students who are trying to figure out what is happening in their community when more and more swastikas appear. One character, Lincoln Rowley (Link)  is determined to help his classmates get to the truth of what is happening and to past crimes of white supremacy . Learning about his Jewish past and planning to have his bar mitzvah makes Link a sympathetic character. The title of the book not only refers to Link but to a dedicated project to create a paper chain of 6 million links to represent the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Korman writes that the book was inspired by the famous 1998 Paper Clips Project from Whitewell Middle School in Whitwell Tennessee. Will the culprit(s) get caught? What will their punishment? Will the community work together to complete what seems a mammoth task? Where will the school get supplies and find space to display the chain? Will Link learn enough to have a proper Bar Mitzvah? How will news spread beyond the community? How will the appearance of a popular vlogger help to solve the problem? How do we conquer hate? Will a mission to find dinosaur bones be successful? Mr. Korman tells an important story about heritage, defamation, and respect. Mr. Korman you write great books!. 

TOO BRIGHT TO SEE by Kyle Lukoff

In this slim (188 page) novel we meet Bug a young girl who lives with her mother in a small community. At the beginning of the book, we learn that  Bug’s Uncle Roderick has has passed away , and Bug deals with her grief by having fond memories and lessons of her uncle, once a drag queen.  Roderick cannot be easily forgotten, especially Bug encounters ghosts in her household that she is sure are trying to communicate with her. It is summertime and as Bug meets up with her good friend Moira who is interested in makeup and boys, which doesn’t intrigue Bug and so she begins to question her identity.  As it turns out Uncle Roderick is advising Bug to be true to thines elf and for Bug this means understanding that she should live her life as a boy. Stories about ghosts and ouija boards don’t particularly excite me but I was intrigued to learn how gender fluidity is presented in this novel. This important theme is merely hinted at as the story unfolds and the big understanding and reveal doesn’t emerge until the final section of the book. In the author’s note, Kyle Lukoff answers the question: ‘What’s it about?’ by writing”it’s a ghost story! It’s about a kid named Bug, her uncle – I mean, his uncle – uh, wait so their uncle – um.” Gender fluidity is addressed in this novel but this questioning quietly meanders throughout much of the book.  Lukoff says”: This book “is about a kids being haunted by the ghost of their dead uncle into figuring out something important”. Enough said. 

CHUNKY by Yehudi Mercado (graphic autobiography)

Based on the author’s experiences growing up, this graphic story takes us into the life of Hudi whose parents were concerned about him losing weight, pushing him into try out for different sports. The book is divided into chapters that outline Hudi’s unsuccessful attempts at Baseball, Soccer, Tennis, Swimming and Football. Hudi, the only Mexican and Jewish kid in the neighbourhood is cheered on by  an imaginary friend/ mascot named Chunky. Hudi’s true love is the world of comedy (he’s quite the wisecracking character) give him strength to carry on.  In the author’s notes, Mercado writes: “Being ‘chunky’ isn’t about being fat. Being Chunky is about feeling you don’t fit in” which is something that was a. burden to Yehudi when growing up until he found comfort in the world of high school theatre. Hooray for drama! Readers who are challenged with fitting in will root for Yehudi Mercado throughout this entertaining and inspiring graphic story. 


From page one of this novel, until the final words, I found myself always rooting for   Wilbur Nunez Knopf, a ninth grade student who lives in downtown Toronto with his two mothers. As Wilbur grows into adolescenthood, he longs to. have someone special of. his own and opportunity knocks with an exchange program of students from Paris. Wilbur is enamoured with Charlie, a feisty, artistic girlfriend who stays with his family and even though he has to scrape money for the school trip to France, Wilbur looks forward to new adventures and l’amour (perhaps).  a Wilbur is quite the funny dude who seems to carry on and enjoys life with the help of his gay friend Alex, his chihuahua, Templeton, his poetry-writing,  a job making submarine sandwiches, a talent for playing the triangle in the school band and especially  with his warm friendship with Sal, his elderly neighbour. Wilbur Knopf is a funny guy, Susin Nielsen is a funny writer. This is a funny – heartwarming – novel about taking charge and carrying on. I loved this book!


Junie Kim, a Korean student in middle school, does not want to draw attention to herself, especially when racist graffiti appears in her school. When she is assigned an oral history project, Junie interviews her grandparents and learns about the history of her family and the brutality that citizens faced during the Korean war. Much of the book takes readers into the past as Junie listens to the harrowing survival stories her grandfather and grandmother recount. It is these stories of the past that help Junie to discover her history and inspires the young teenager to make a difference in the future. Junie and her friends become members of the Diversity Club  and together the team hopes to confront the school about racism. Ellen Oh’s book is inspired by her mother’s real-life experiences and provides a rich narrative about identity, and hope and the vital need to fight for what is right. An exceptional novel not only about Korean families but an inspiration for young people to learn as much about their own families from older relatives whilc they can. 

STAMPED (For Kids) by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Fendi, adapted by Sonja Cherry-Paul; illus. Rachelle Baker

Dr Ibram X =.Kendi founding director of the Boston Centre for Antiracist Research wrote the books Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (2016). Bestselling author, Jason Reynolds adapted Kendi’s award-winning book  for Young Adult Readers (Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You (2020) and Sonja Cherry-Paul, cofounder of the Institute for Racial Equity in Literacy has written a new version – for kids – taking readers on a journey to find out where racist ideas came from and identify how they impact America today claiming that “Until we learn to talk about race, the poison of racism won’t go away.”  Cherry Paul talks tot he readers as she provides information about significant heroic figures in the history of racism. Some sample chapter titles framework for examining the issue: People Aren’t Property (ch. 3); War Over Slavery (ch. 8); Racism on Screen (ch. 11); Marchon Washington (ch. 15); Black Power (ch. 17); Black Lives Matter (ch. 24). The  ultimate goal is to help readers understand and identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their own lives. A special feature throughout are text boxes that begin with the words “Let’s Pause” and end with the words “Let’s Unpause” to help readers reflect on the information and anecodotes presented on these pages 

ONCE UPON AN EID by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed (editors)

This book is collection of stories of hope and joy by 15 Muslim voices. From the introduction: “This anthology you are holding opens up this experience to a wide variety of readers – those who celebrate, allowing you to snuggle into familiar and cozy, and those who don’t, allowing you to join in on the celebrating.” These stories shines a light on the customs of celebrating Eid, including the dishes, the gift-giving, the prayers, the parties and especially the family and friendships. A wonderful collection of Muslim identity, of cultural celebrations and of joy.



Third-grade teacher, Kyle Schwartz posed the following fill in the blank statement to her students

I wish my teacher knew_______

In safe, trusting environment student students were encouraged to send messages to their teachers opening up about their life circumstances, anxieties, fears, grief, challenges, hopes and dreams. When Kyle shared her experience online, teachers around the globe began sharing their own contributions to #IWishMyTeacherKnew.Students can partake into this exercise by writing letters to their teacher.  The activity encourages writers to be as open and honest with their teachers and they should know that letters will be kept confidential once teachers receive them or if presented online can be anonymous. Kyle Schwartz’s book I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids the author presents eight chapters that outlinesuch topics as Poverty, Grief and Loss, the Trauma-Informed Classroom, Self-Efficacy.   A Teacher’s Guide for the project is included.