Two novels about censorship for elementary/middle school
One of my favourite books ever deals with the topic of censorship. Alan Gratz handles it in a smart way in Ban This Book. I read it in two evenings and loved it. This is a brilliant, funny story based on a very real concern, that of banning books in school libraries. Gratz skillfully deals with both sides of the issue in a great way. He leaves the power to solve the problem to the kids, especially to Amy Anne who loves her school library. But the book also manages to show parental concern, the responsibilities of school boards and – most of all – the importance of having a real librarian in the school library and the influence books can have on a child’s life. The story shows how school libraries can be critical to the development of children. His main character grows and changes throughout the story. Gratz neatly quotes real titles, real authors (Dav Pilkey is a visiting author in the story) and refers to real book banning cases, wrapping up all loose ends in a satisfying manner. Highly recommended for kids, activists, parents, school administrators and all library lovers.
Starscape, Tom Doherty Associates. ISBN 978-0-7653-8558-1
I had the same high expectation for another book on the same topic, with an attractive cover: Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes.
But what a disappointment. Seemingly out of the blue, June’s parents decide that, even though she is in Grade Seven, a book about ghosts is too scary for her. They not only take that book away from her but also any and all books she owns. Then a moving van shows up at her school and all books in the library get removed. June slowly collects books again and lends them out to other. While the topic is an important one for young readers to learn about, and even touches on Little Free Libraries, I found this book too unbelievable to ring true for me.
Yearling, ISBN 978-1-5247-7150-8
Margriet Ruurs is the author of many books for children and conducts author visits via ZOOM.
This Week: BIOGRAPHIES, STRONG VOICES – Picture books for all ages to read and discuss in the classroom.
The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota’s Garden
by Heather Smith is a perfect picture book to discuss natural disasters with young readers. Based on a true story, this tale is based on the 2010 tsunami in Japan. Makio and his neighbor, Mr. Hirota, witness the violence of the tsunami, which claims the lives of loved ones. Mr. Hirota helps Makio and others their village to deal with their grief in a lovely, unusual way. In addition to being a book about a natural disaster, this can also function as a story to help children deal with loss.
Orca Book Publishers, ISBN 978-145-982-1033
Pirate Queen, A Story of Zheng Yi Sao
by Helaine Becker is the unique, true story of a kidnapped Chinese girl who became the most powerful pirate ever to roam the South China Sea. She ended up building an empire of ships, even conquering the Emperor’s fleet. I was not aware of this part of Chinese history and found it a fascinating read about a strong woman. This illustrated book is great for middle school.
Groundwood BooksISBN 978-1-77306-124-5
Meet Terry Fox
by Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated by Mike Deas.
The true story of Terry Fox is told in text as well as illustrations with speech bubbles in this book, which is part of a series of biographies. It is the story of a determined boy growing up in Canada. Terry loves sports and is quite competitive. But an agressive form of cancer claims one of Terry’s legs. He is determined to play sports again and, eventually embarks on a 8,500 kilometer run across Canada to raise awareness and money for cancer research. The Terry Fox Run has become legendary and has rasied nearly $800 million, Even many years after his death, school children still participate in the annual run honoring this determined young man who made a huge difference during his life.
As an avid reader and writer, I love books about books and libraries. Here are some outstanding ones.
Every once in a while you pick up a book that makes its way straight to your heart: Alphamaniacs, Builders of 26 Wonders of the Word, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is such a book. The text is a poetic description of 26 people who made a difference in the world of language – some are writers, others invented a new style or printed books in a new, unique way. Rather than a summation of biographies the author used the voice of a circus ringmaster to introduce each ‘Wonder of the Word’. There is Jean-Dominique Bauby who became paralyzed except for one eye lid and ended up dictating an entire novel by blinking the letters. An astonishing feat. Jumping back and forth through the ages, the book celebrates European writers and native Americans, among others. One is Jessie Little Doe Baird who singlehanded saved her Wampanoag language, actually bringing it back from extinction. There’s the inventor of Klingon as well as the creator of Esperanto, a universal language created by Ludwik Zamenhof in Poland in hopes of promoting peace and understanding between people.
Each story is accompanied by a piece of art by the incredible master of collage, Caldecott Honor illustrator Melissa Sweet, making this book is a feast for the eye and ear of any booklover.
Candlewick Studio, ISBN 978-0763690663
Another book I fell in love with is the picturebook A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. One of those fabulous books for anyone who knows the value of stories, this one starts with a pen and a blank page. Then the main character takes us along on a celebration of books, through illustrations composed of words from those very books. While sailing the ocean, the words forming the waves are from books like Ten Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, The Swiss Family Robinson and more. Kids climb mountains of words from Peter Pan to reach the sky. They discover treasure and wander through forests made of book spines. I love this book and its powerful images, and I suspect that booklovers of all ages will love it, too.
Candlewick Press, ISBN 978-0-7636-9077-9
Oliver Jeffers is also the creator of The Incredible Book Eating Boy, a hilarious picture book to share with Kindergartens or older. Henry devours books, literally. The more he eats, the smarter he gets. Until he is so stuff full of books that he gets a tummy ache. Then he discovers that reading books is much better than eating books, and he gets smarter yet. The ‘real bite’ out of the back cover is a fun bonus.
ASIN : B007XJ7388
The Library of Ever by Zeno Alexander
As soon as I spotted this novel for young readers in my local bookstore, I knew I had to own it. And it was a wise choice. As I read, I met Lenora and traveled along on her wild adventures through the ages and around the globe, all entered through a library.
Lenora is ‘hired’ as Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian and climbs her way up the library ladder, through solving problems and risking her life for knowledge. ‘Knowledge is a Light’ is the library’s slogan, chiseled in stone, and Lenore knows it’s true, especially when she encounters dark forces who want to get rid of books and ban others from gathering knowledge through reading.
I’ve read many other books with a library theme: Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library for instance. But those books are merely fun entertainment. The Library of Ever actually has a whole layer beyond its entertainment value that, almost imperceptibly, demonstrates the importance of books, research and the freedom to read.
I soon loved how this unique book blends fantasy with true questions, asked at the Help Desk and whose answers can be found only be doing research. The book is very cleverly written because we all have asked some of the questions and often have made the mistake of not enough fact checking. Reading, I learned some very interesting facts – from the highest point on earth (not what you think!) to Minoan Literature, from leap years to hieroglyphs. Readers’ minds can truly grow on this book.
Underlying all of Lenora’s adventures is the threat of Dark Forces. As the Chief Librarian states at one point: ‘the value of a Library cannot be counted in money.’ Same with the book – it was well worth the 10.- purchase price and both my grandson and I gained much more from the reading experience than just fun hours spent reading together. We kept sharing what we learned by saying “Did you know this? And listen to this!”…
Fantasy is not normally a genre I enjoy but now I can’t wait to read the next title: Rebel in the Library of Ever.
A Look at our Environment in picture books and novels. Here are some brand-new titles for readers of all ages, dealing with our environment and even with our current global pandemic.
This Is My Daddy! by Mies van Hout is a lovely board book for very young readers. Each colourful image shows an animal baby and four possible daddies who look amazingly similar but are actually different animals. The art really makes you look closely at wings, legs, feelers, horns to determine whose baby this is. A fun book for preschoolers, complete with surprise ending. ISBN 978-1-77278-112-0, Pajama Press
Benjamin’s Blue Feet by Sue Macartney is a fun, engaging picture book about creatures living at the Galapagos Islands. Benjamin thinks his beak is too long, his wings are to wide and his feet are… too blue! The iguanas, lizards and crabs are all adapted to their own environment. But when Benjamin tries to alter his looks with things found on the beach, he discovers that he is just perfect, too. This book offers additional resources here: pajamapress.ca/resource/benjamins_blue_feet_extra_content ISBN 978-1-77278-111-3, Pajama Press
A Forest in the City by Andrea Curtis examines the importance of trees and park in city landscapes in this nonfiction picturebook. Tied to urban development and climate change, the book shows the importance of paying attention to parks as city populations grow. A good resource for upper elementary and middle school students who are looking at city planning and environmental impact. ISBN 978-1-77306-142-9, Groundwood Books
Kah-Lan and the Stink-Ink by Karen Autio is a chapter book for young readers. We all know the perils and consequences of an oil spill in the ocean, but how would a young sea otter feel when his environment is endangered? This interesting story is told from Kah-Lan’s viewpoint as he grows up and is ready to leave his family raft. Venturing out alone along North America’s west coast, Kah-Lan learns about the dangers he must face and experiences what happens when people pollute. A nice story to share and discuss the environment. ISBN 9-781989-724071, CP Press
Don’t Stand So Close To Me by Eric Walters is a timely novel about the world’s current pandemic. Although based on recent events, facts and experiences, the strength of this book is that it is a fictional story in which young teens can recognize themselves. Suddenly faced with school closures, Zoom meetings and face masks, 13 year old Quinn and her friends learn to deal with a new reality. This book will show upper elementary and middle school readers that they are not alone in facing many new challenges. The story also shows how kids can take positive initiatives to help others. ISBN 978-1459827875 Orca Book Publishers
These not-so-obvious scary books are a treat to share around Halloween
In this column I share books with you that have global appeal. I hope to help you, in a quick and easy manner, to find the most fabulous books to share with your students. Of course, nothing is better than a read-a-loud – regardless of age level.
FROM FAR AWAY by Robert Munsch is a picturebook for the younger grades, co-authored by Saoussan Askar (age 9). She wrote to Robert Munsch, of Love You Forever fame, to share her story of immigrating from Beirut, Lebanon. She was happy to live in a safe place, but when Halloween came around she was suddenly confronted with ghosts and skeletons in closets. Munsch skillfully turned her scary tale into a funny one that highlights differences in cultures and the difference a caring teacher can make.
ISBN 1-55037-396-X, Annick Press
GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier is a graphic novel. Its word choices and story content make this is a great story for slightly older readers. Catrina, her sister Maya who suffers from cystic fibrosis and their parents move to a new town. Catrina does not like it there. Nor does she like the town’s history full of ghosts, which is celebrated during Diá de los Muertos. Catrina is very hesitant to go out on Halloween night but she and her sister meet many ghosts who help change their perspective.
ISBN 978-0-545-54062-9, Scholastic
SEVEN DEAD PIRATES is a great classroom read at any time, but particularly fitting around Halloween since Lewis Dearborn is moving into his great-grandfather’s dilapidated old mansion. The mansion, it turns out, is already inhabited by no less than seven ghostly pirates. Lewis ends up with seven rowdy room mates who depend on him to reclaim their ship so they can roam the seven seas again. In the process, Lewis has to face his worst fears. 296 page novel.
Finally, and coincidentally by the same author, a picture book that is perfect for older readers – including high school students.
MARY WHO WROTE FRANKENSTEIN by Linda Bailey is the beautifully crafted background story of Mary who, as a little girl who learns to read by tracing the letters on tombstones. At age 19 she is challenged by Lord Byron and Percy Shelley to write a scary story. Mary Shelley ends up creating the most terrifying, and enduring, tale of all: Frankenstein. This gorgeous biography showcases captivating art by Júlia Sardá.
The Flooded Earth, The Castle in the Sea and The Skeleton Coast are three dystopian page turners for middle school.
While The Hunger Games was for older readers, these books have the feel of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass: deliciously scary. The Flooded Earth books are set 50 years after a massive flood and climate change change the earth’ surface. Four kids set sail in search of secrets, hidden clues and their mysteriously disappeared father. With three sequels, there’s plenty to keep an avid reader spellbound here.
Pajama Press, ISBN 978-1-772278-049-9
The Parkour Club by Pam Withers and Arooj Hayat is a high speed read for teens. This story features parkour courses, an unusual and fascinating focus.
Bronte moves from Egypt back to North America, and is coping with adjustments and making new friends at her new school. She follows her passion for parkour and makes friends in her new club. But some people are not who they seem. Is there a terrorist among them? Who can she trust and who is dangerous? A good read for teens.
ISBN 978-0995910324, also available as e-book.
Music for Tigers by Michelle Kadarusman is a fascinating, and fun, read for middle grade students interested in wildlife and extinction. Set in a unique place, Louisa travels to an aunt in Tasmania where she discovers both a diary and the mysterious shadows of an animal. Could the Tasmanian tiger still be present? A wonderful read, very well written, for kids of all ages.
Picture books about friends, compassion, and nature
The Word For Friend, by Aidan Cassie is the perfect picture book for international schools. Kemala moves to a new home and will attend a new school. But her classmates speak a different language. How can she play with them if she can’t understand them? This book cleverly uses Esperanto, complete with a word guide and information about Kemala, who is a pangolin. A great story about friendship, moving to another country and fitting in. ISBN 978-0-374-31046-2
The Seed of Compassion, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Illustrated by Bao Luu, this is a lovely autobiography in picture book format of the Dalai Lama. It tells of his childhood and his education. While the text is for slightly older readers, the story focuses on compassion and customs of Buddhists’ faith. ISBN 978-0-525-55514-8
West Coast Wild Babies by Deborah Hodge, with art by Karen Reczuch is a gentle walk through the rainforests and along the shores of the Pacific North West coast. It focuses on wildlife babies ranging from wolf cubs to gray whale pups and many in between. ISBN 978-1-77306-248-8
Nattiq and the Land of Statues, Barbara Landry and Martha Kyak This story from the Arctic is unique in that it uses Inuktitut syllabics and romanized Inuit words throughout the story of how Seal travels and brings back stories about a land with tall trees and unusual animals. He tells polar bear and his other northern friends all about seasons and birds. A lovely picture book to discuss Arctic animals and a different environment. ISBN 978-1-55498-891-4
Sharing stories, expertise, and experiences from international educators around the world