Ten Great Novels for Readers ages 9 -12, each deserved of a shout out. Some titles are sure to appear on my top ten list of books at year’s end. 



KEY PLAYER: A Front Desk novel by Kelly Yang

We first met Mia Tang in the terrific novel, Front Desk and once again we encounter the adventures he spirit,  the talent and activist nature of this Asian American character. This is the 4th book in the series Front Desk, Three Keys and Room to Dream and readers who have joined in her experiences along the way will not be disappointed as Mia, her friends and family fight for social justice. (note: The books are self-contained. You do not really have to read them in chronological order). Readers come to admire Mia as much as they did in book one and over the years, we get to know Mia deeper, like a good trusted friend. In Key Player, the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup comes to Pasadena. Team China was playing against Team USA. This competition is a strong step for women in sports and for Mia as a Chinese American girl she is conflicted about who she should root for.  As a budding journalist, Mia is determined to meet with the Chinese players and for Mia, where there’s a will there’s a way,  as she battles, sexism and classism and racism. (“You want to rout for China? Then go back to China?” / “I knew you guys were going to be difficult. My colleague warned me. He said, “Don’t take on new immigrants. They’re going to be a lot of work.”‘”Where are you guys from? he asked. “Right here in Anaheim!” I said. But where are you really from?”. Woven into the plot is Mia’s family’s wish to find a house of their own to live in, a Math competition which her best friend Lupe enters (and Mia’s mom coaches), and the return of the tough, Mr. Yao, co-owner of the motel and the tough control he has over his son Jason who is a talented chef. 

As with the other titles in the series, events for this novel are drawn from Kelly Yang’s own past. In the author’s note she writes: I wondered if the stadium – and the United States – had room for both the Chinese and American parts or me. My greatest hope in writing Key Player is for kids to understand that there is room. There’s room for all parts or you. All your history, and hopes and dreams, and shins you’re still figuring out too.”

Kelly Yang writes great books, filled with heart, adventure and humour. Moreover, the Front Desk series guides readers to think about discrimination and the quest for immigrants to find a place where dreams can be realized as they find a place to belong. Kelly Yang’s books must be read. 

P.S  Yang dedicates her book “To everyone who has ever struggled in P.E., like me.

MY LIFE BEGINS by Patricia MacLachan

Patricia MacLachlan is a beloved author (Sarah, Plain and Tall, Word after Word after Word, The Poet’s Dog, Baby) who’s tender stories have  filled the hearts of young readers ages 8-11 for many years. The celebrated author passed away in 2022 and My Life Begins is her first novel published after her death. MacLachlan tells the story of nine-year old Jacob who more than anything would like a puppy but when his mother gives birth to triplets, dreams of getting a new pet need to be put on the side. He gives his three sisters a name: The Trips and through a school research project, Jacob observes and document the growth and charm of his three new sisters. This is an unfussy, rather gentle story about sibling relationships and a  warm portrait of  babies and a boy and change. Thank you for your wonderful wonderful books, Patricia MacLachlan. 

OMAR RISING by Aisha Saeed

We first met Omar in Aisha Saeed’s fine novel Amal Unbound. In this story, Omar is enrolled in the Ghalib Academy a prestigious school in Pakistan that will give Omar, the son of a servant, opportunities for a better future. Upon his arrival, Omar learns that scholarship students cannot join clubs, or teams (he is keen to play soccer) and is obligated to complete 5 hours of extra  chores. each week. Omar invests himself heart and soul into his studies  but when he learns that the school ‘weeds out’. scholarship students like him he is devastated and is moved to take action to change the school rules.  A strong portrayal of school life, academic achievement, friendships and class discrimination. It is an engaging story of a equity and one determined boy’s ‘rising’ and fight for justice. 


After their father disappears (a bad business venture), Evan Pao (Pow) moves with his mother and sister from California to Haddington Virginia. Evan discovers that he is the only Chinese American student enrolled in the school, and even though Evan hopes to make the best of it, he and his family encounter Anti-Asian racism. The school name is Battleford and Evan’s teacher is proud to organize Battlefield Day when students dress up like it’s the Civil War and live like people did back then. The project inspires Evan to learn about Chinese soldiers who may have been involved in the War from 18612 to 1865 in the fight between the north and south over slavery.  Evan needs to figure out how his   culture fits into the past, deals hate crimes in the present and move to a future where neighbours accept each other for who they are. Each chapter is centred on. different novel character narrated in the third person.

THE TRYOUT by Christina Soontornvat; illus. Joanna Cacao (graphic autobiography)

The author recounts her experiences of trying out for cheerleader in seventh grade which for her was an ‘exhilarating, horrifying, empowering, and nauseating all at once.’ Soont is Thai/Chinese and her family owned a restaurant in a small town in Texas. When she enthusiastically decides to join the try-outs for the school cheerleading squad (the grade 7 students vote for the winners), she discovers more about competition, loyalty, popularity and especially racism. A boy in her class calls her “Rice Girl” and gets away with it. Christina Soontornvat’s story can resonate with many students today who feel that they are outsiders because of their skin colour or religion.  Three cheers for this terrific, honest story about cheerleading – and fitting in. 

WOLFSTONGUE by Sam Thompson

The story takes place in an underground city, deep in the forest, in a world built by wolves, a world where the foxes live. Silas, a boy who is continuously bullied at school because he is unable to speak out loud helps an injured wolf and is then invited into the secret Forest world dominated by the leader Reynard the fox. A gripping adventure unfolds where Silas (Wolfstongue) is on a mission to help rescue the stolen baby wolves and fight for the last remaining wolves to survive. I’m rather fond of books with  anthropomorphic animal characters (Abel’s Island by William Steig;The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo; The One and Only Ivan by  Katherine Applegate, and much preferred a different story about a fox named Pax  by Sara Pennypacker but I wasn’t as gripped by this book as I’m sure many readers ages 8 to 12 will be. Cover reviews : “The best animated adventure since Watership Down “(The Times); “A hugely original tale” (The Irish Times); “Gripping and profound” (New Statesman); “One of the most extraordinary children’s books I’ve ever read”. Wolfstongue is Irish writer Sam Thompson’s first book for children (, with black and white illustrations by Anna Tromop that show vivid images of story events)  and is certain to be enjoyed by young readers who like to delve into ‘animated’ ‘original’ ‘gripping’ ‘extraordinary’ animal adventures. (spoiler: A sequel The Fox’s Tower will be forthcoming in 2023). (I don’t think I’ll be reading it!!)

THE WORLD’S WORST PETS by David Walliams’; illus. Adam Stower (short stories)

Another wild and funny, ridiculous  and joyous,  collection of ten stories of naughty characters such as Picasso The Pony, Monty The Musical Dog, Furp the Fish and Zoom the Supersonic Tortoise. For millions of readers who have laughed at The World’s Worst Children, The World’s Worst Teachers, The World’s Worst Parents by bestselling author David Walliams, welcome to another whacky reading adventure. To those who haven’t enjoyed a Walliams title, and the brilliant graphic formatting of words and pictures, what have you been waiting for? Shout out to illustrator Adam Stower for cartoon-like drawings that hop, skip and jump off the page, (from page to page).

WORSER by Jennifer Ziegler

Things are going from bad to worser for 12-year-old William Wyatt Orser / W. Orser / Worser. His father died when he was four years old. His mother has had a stroke and is recovering slowly. Artistic, Aunt Iris, has moved into his house and seems to be taking over as surrogate parent (She calls him ‘Potato’). When he enters grade 7, he is  summoned to the principal’s office and they don’t see eye to eye. The school library, a place of refuge for Orser is now closed after school hours. He pines for a girl named Donya who doesn’t seem to feel the same about him.  When the school Literary Club is about to dissolve, Orser saves the day by arranging to have them meet at a local bookstore where he’s made an arrangement with the owner by offering to clean up the storage room. Worser is also a word fanatic and keeps a list of strange words, delicious words, word patterns collected in his lexicon collection he calls ‘Masterwork’. Worser laments that things can’t be the way they always were, especially with the warm relationship he had with his mother, and he struggles to overcome authority, grief and loneliness. This is a wonderful, amusing and heartfelt novel about activism, friendships, family, middle years changes and, yes, word power. 


THE FORT by Gordon Korman

This novel is Gordon Korman’s hundreth book.  Mazel Tov!

In the aftermath of a hurricane, four middle school friends discover an underground bomb shelter. Actually, Ricky, an outsider to the group, is the one who found the trapdoor that lead to the well-equipped underground fort which the five boys vow to keep a secret.  Korman presents each of the chapters  the point of view of one of the characters, each with his own story.  After his presents are forced into rehab, Evan lives with his grandparents, Jason is the pingpong ball in a divorce settlement, Mitchell has a compulsive disorder and lives with his mother who is doing her best as a single mother and CJ who is consistently bruised and battered because of what he says are careless accidents.  The plot thickens when Evan’s older brother and his loathsome friend are out to threaten the boys until they confess where they suddenly are getting money to spend (i.e., expensive silverware left by the shelter’s owner). The Fort is an engaging story about boys sharing secrets and adventures but beyond the terrific plot, is a story that sensitively and realistically deals with such issues as divorce, OCD and abuse. Gordon Korman is a genius at telling appealing stories that appeal to middle-age readers, stories that ring true in discussing friendships, stories that have an out-of-the box inventive narrative that is the stuff of novels.  Mr. Korman deserves a huge shout out for his 100th publication and the multitudes of fans around the world will surely join  along in the shout out, and thank, this terrific author for providing terrific books. 



ODDER by Katherine Applegate

Wow! a new book by Katherine Appelgate. I’m a fan and was thrilled to see that she has written another free verse novel (I’m so fond of Home of the Brave) and another story honouring the world of animals (I’m so fond of The One and Only Ivan). Odder is an otter. Life is grand for Odder the brave curious sea otter as she enjoys frolicking off the coast of Central California. One day, Odder is attacked by a great white shark and when she is rescued by humans she learns about the possible dangers of swimming freely in the ocean and humans who care and protect for endangered animals. The story is inspied by the true story of a Monterey Bay Aquarium program that paired surrogate orphaned pups with surrogate pups. Katherine Applegate has – of course done extensive research about sea otters and presents a rich hybrid of novel, non-fiction and poetry in this wonderful wonderful book. 

Humans envy the way

otters sleep on the water, 

paws linked,

untroubled as lily pads.

>>>>>>  >>>>> <<<<<< <<<<<


Eight prizes in total were awarded \t:

  • On the Trapline, written by David A. Robertson and illustrated by Julie Flett (Tundra Books), won the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award ($50,000)
  • Time is a Flower, written and illustrated by Julie Morstad (Tundra Books), won the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award ($20,000)
  • The Power of Style: How Fashion and Beauty Are Being Used to Reclaim Cultures, written by Christian Allaire and illustrated by Jacqueline Li (Annick Press), won the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non‐Fiction ($10,000)
  • Second Chances, written by Harriet Zaidman (Red Deer Press), won the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People ($5,000)
  • Iron Widow, written by Xiran Jay Zhao (Penguin Teen Canada), won the Amy Mathers Teen Book Award ($5,000)
  • Elvis, Me, and the Lemonade Stand Summer, written by Leslie Gentile (DCB Young Readers), won the Jean Little First-Novel Award ($5,000)
  • Iron Widow, written by Xiran Jay Zhao (Penguin Teen Canada), won the Arlene Barlin Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy ($5,000)
  • Summer Feet, written by Sheree Fitch and illustrated by Carolyn Fisher (Nimbus Publishing), won the David Booth Children’s and Youth Poetry Award ($3,500)