This posting highlights TEN TERRIFIC TITLES (most published in 2023) , varied in topics (e.g., surviving war, mental health, coming out, neighbourhood activism, the menstrual cycle, school shootings) varied in settings (e.g., an urban park, farmyards, an elephant sanctuary, a remote island, an urban NY community, a concentration camp) and varied in genre (narrative fiction {middle years and YA} graphic biography, short story),


BARNEY THE HORSE: and other tales from the farm by Michael Morpurgo(3 short stories) (ages 7-9)

This book presents three short stories by master storyteller, Michael Morpurgo, who founded a charity, Farms for City Children  that offers urban British young people the opportunity to live and work on a real farm. The story of a missing sheep (and a missing boy), the story of a boy, obsessed with birds, who is in paradise when visits a farm and saves the life a baby swallow, and the story of a young girl who is enamoured with horses and is thrilled when she has the chance take care of a farm horse named Barney are great read-aloud narratives (or ideal for independent readers ages, 7-9). Hooray for ‘Farms for City Children’. Hooray for Mr. Morpurgo!


CALLING THE MOON: 16 Period Stories from 16 BIPOC authors by Aida Salazar & Yamile Saied Mendez (Editors) / Short Stories

This is a collection of 16 short stories, each featuring a young adolescent girl’s first experience getting her period. Each of the stories is written by a BIPOC author, thus giving the stories a range of narratives – and celebrations – centred on different cultures (e.g. Cuban, Indigenous, Pakistani, African). For sure,  young girl readers will identify – and learn – from the menstrual experiences of the fictitious characters in these stories. They will likely connect to the physical and emotional self-discovery experiences of these girls whether they are prepared or left in the dark about this important passage into womanhood.  The stories, about 20 pages in length offer engaging narratives of family and friends. Three stories are told in free-verse.


JULIA AND THE SHARK by Kiran Millwood Hargrave; illus. Tom de Freston

Julia and her family are spending the summer on a remote island.  Her father is doing work on a lighthouse and her mother, a marine biologist is searching for the Greenland shark, an elusive rare creature that might be older than the trees. At first, Julia isn’t thrilled with this trip but she develops, friendships on the island and finds that it is a place to her love of nature and her  knowledge of the sea. When her mother becomes disappointed and despondent of her quest, Julia is determined to prove that the shark is real. This is a story of family ties, the environment, bullying and mental health.  First perusal of this book with text and illustrations reminded me of the A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness; illus. Jim Kay. The tone of Julia and the Shark is indeed similar to A Monster Calls as a pre-teen deals with the a parent’s failing health. The black and white illustrations (with splashes of yellow) that appear throughout add to the atmosphere and the poetic telling of Julia’s tale. A moving, heartfelt story.


THE LIBRARIAN OF AUSCHWITZ: the Graphic novel, based on the book b Antonio Iturbe (ages 12+)

The bestselling novel by Antonio Iturbe tells the storof fourteen-year old Dita who was, along with her mother and father imprisoned in Auschwitz. For Dita, the horrors of the concentration camp were counterbalanced when she was asked to become the librarian of Auschwitz and take charge keep safe, the 8 books that were smuggled past the guards. The books along with real stories told by prisoners educated the children in the camp, even though they discovery of the books in Block 31, the children’s camp would prove to be dangerous, perhaps resulting in execution. Iturbe’s story is based on the true story of Dita Kraus, a Holocaust survivor. This graphic novel adaption synthesized the 400 pages of the original novel by presenting historical facts and  powerful narratives. The strong images  illustrated by Loreto Aroca along with the narrative captions and dialogue match the power of the original novel in presenting another haunting historical account of the Holocaust. Novel: Spanish author, Antonio Iturbe; adapted by Salva Rubio; translated by Lligt Zekulin Thwaites; illustrated by Loreto Aroca.


THE ONE AND ONLY RUBY by Katherine Applegate

We first met Ruby, the young elephant and her friends Ivan, the silverback gorilla and Bob the mutt and now she is part of an elephant herd at the  sanctuary.  Ruby’s tusks are starting to sprout and there will be a celebration, called ‘Tuskday’ to mark this right of passage.  Ruby is not happy about the event, knowing that elephant tusks can bring . For a large portion of this novel, Applegate has has Ruby  recount  her early story of live on the  African savanna and her separation from family.   Not only does the award-winning author weave in information about elephant populations, (“An elephant alone is not an elephant”, but she offers another brilliant anthropomorphic narrative that invites readers to reflect on the questions: “What gifts did the world give you today?” “What gifts did you give the world?”  The format of the book is presented with generous white space paragraphing and appealing black and white illustrations helping to make this another  ‘winner’ from the one and only Katherine Applegate.  I loved this book!


TIME OUT by Sean Hayes, Todd Milliner with Carlyn Greenwald (ages 12+)

Barclay Elliot, basketball hero,  wakes up on his 16th birthday and is excited about his decision to announce that he is gay during the school pep rally. A brave thing indeed. But coming out sets off a challenging journey for Barclay, particularly when forces him to quit his school basketball team. Homophobia abounds from teammates and within the community of Chitwood, Georgia. Barclay struggles with family and friendships as well as the loss of his grandfather who was so much a part of his life. Barclay’s life gets purpose when  participates in a mission to join his good friend, Amy, in a voting rights group. He also meets up with handsome Christopher who is writing a news report of Barclay, uncovering some truths that Barclay keeps hidden.  Barclay must always make choices about being faithful to himself, his community, his friends and his team. But basketball is part of his soul and one of his strongest decisions is whether to re-join the team despite the antagonism (homophobia) from bully players. Time Out is absolutely a worthwhile contribution to titles that deal with the complexities of coming out which will support teenagers to make decisions about their announcing to the world of being a game. It is also a strong story of  being a part of a team. A great YA read!


THE UMBRELLA HOUSE by Colleen Nelson

This is a story for middle age readers about gentrification. The setting is the East Village in New York. A real estate mogul wants to tear down the six-story apartment building known as Umbrella House. It was once the residence of squatters who needed a place to live and a group of dedicated individuals turned the building into a home of eighteen units. Roxy and Scout, best friends, now reside in the building and when they learn what is going to happen they take action to save the building. When they hear of a contest inviting young people to create a documentary for a local news station, they work together to gather stories from residents, neighbours, and artists who can help them with their mission. Roxy is one determined activist who  bravely voices her opinion at a City Council meeting and Scout is a talented photographer who can bring artful vision to the cause. Yes, The Umbrella House is a story about gentrification, but it is a mighty story of community (note; the word UNITY is in community), of  a strong friendship and an account how young people can take action for what they believe in. It is also a story about the power of art. Nelson presents a fast-paced narrative with strong caring characters.



Simon O’Keefe is dealing with trauma – he was the only survivor in a school shooting. His mother (an undertaker) and his father (a Catholic deacon) have moved the family to Grin and Bear It Nebraska, a place where the Internet is banned, a place where Simon hopes to keep his past a secret (which is more or less kept hidden for the first 100 or so pages of the novel).  Filtered throughout the book, the author presents funny incidents which counterbalance the horrific story that Simon hides. A screaming peacock, chaos with alpacas,  goats giving birth, a drunken dog, a tornado, a Jesus squirrel, a loving service dog, a lost cadaver and a plot to listen for signs of life from alien creatures in space all add to the comedy this intriguing story. Award-winning (Plain Kate) author Erin Bow is a great storyteller, with  sharp insights into science, relationships and the heart.


WHO OWNS THE CLOUDS? by Mario Brassard; illus. Gerard Dubois (ages 12+)

This book when published in French, was the winner of the Governor Generals’ Literary Award. This fairly short graphic memoir has now been translated into English. It is the heart-squeezing story of  young girl named Lisa who’s childhood memories of being caught in the web of war have overcome her. The dreams that Lina has blur the lines of the reality of imminent war. Clouds serve as metaphors for her painful remembrances as well as dreams for a better future. This is a story of trauma, healing and hope. The monochromatic illustrations add to the sombre mood of the narrative. Spots of scarlet red and robin-egg blue skies occasionally interrupt Gerard Dubois’s evocative black and tan art work. Who Owns the Clouds? is a special Canadian publication, worthy of its award recognition.




In this novel, readers accompany Johannes, a free dog, a fast  (very fast) dog, a brave, philosophical, loyal dog,  on his day to day adventures in an enormous urban park by the sea.  Johanne is ‘the eyes’ that sees all around him.. He is entranced (and enters) the mysterious new building the humans have built; he has rescued an infant from drowning, he is captured by a group of scheming humans (he escapes). He is dedicated to his bird, raccoon and squirrel friends (i.e., ‘The Assistant Eyes’) who join in his escapades. When the dog encounters a herd of ever-hungry goats, he is enamoured with the friendship of a female goat who is different from the others. Johannes is especially worried about the three ancient bison who are fenced in and along with his companions, he embarks on a scheme to set the bisons free on a  journey to the main-land beyond the park. Shout out to the richly coloured landscape paintings that appear throughout the book, each a classic work of art in which illustrator Shawn Harris added Johannes to each scene. This is a mighty fine publication for readers young and old, destined to be a classic sitting alongside other titles of animal heroes. A gem!