As an adult I love reading teen and YA novels. There’s nothing better than curling up with Because of Winn-Dixie or The Library of Ever. But which new novels are coming out now? And what are they about? Here are some reviews to help educators put books in the hands of readers.Happy Reading!
Making Seakerby Karen Autio. It took me a while to figure out the meaning of the title but it is about the making of a small floating boat with GPS, called Seaker. Jamie has just moved to a new city and school. She is worried about making friends since she is not into sports. Jamie is a science nerd. She soon discovers that her new home town is also the home town of Paddle to the Sea, the wonderful classic written by Holling Clandy Holling. That story forms the bases of Jamie’s quest to retrace the journey, with her toy boat, from town to the sea through the Great Lakes using tracking equipment. ISBN 978-1989-724095, Crwth Press
A very good website gives details on the making of the book, the equipment used for the boat as well as links to science sites: http://www.seaker.ca/
This book is great to couple with The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner which is based on a boy who loves geo-caching.
Warned: The Astrologer’s Prophecy by Mahtab Narsimhan is an exciting adventure set in India. Avi pleaded with his parents to let him stay with a friend but they insisted on him staying with his grandfather in Delhi while they work as doctors in Rajasthan. Now he is stuck in a crumbling mansion, no wifi, and with an old man whom he barely knows and a mysterious, scary caretaker. Who locked him into the attic? Can he trust the girl he meets from a different caste? The exotic location shines through in the sounds, scents and sights of India while the deliciously scary story takes you right into the midst of the chaos. Well written and highly recommended. ISBN Ebook: 978-1-7778318-0-6
Runner: Harry Jerome, World’s Fastest Man by Norma Charles is the fascinating true story of a boy who grew up in Manitoba, Canada. As a young boy Harry started running and never stopped. He trained at the University of Oregon and competed in three Olympic Games while setting an incredible seven world records. This novel explores who he was and what makes an athlete overcome obstacles, including prejudice for a boy with African-Canadian heritage. A great read for wanna-be Olympians. ISBN 978-0-889955-5-30, Red Deer Press
The Other Side by Heather Camlot is a page turner murder mystery. As twelve year old Liam visits his grandfather’s cottage by the lake, he discovers a body. Who was she? How did she get there and what happened? Intertwined with Liam’s relationship with his elderly grandfather who is dying in hospital and who spent his earlier life as a German soldier in World War II, the story is laced with intrigue about the murder as well as details on soccer’s World Cup. ISBN 978-08899-5614-8, Red Deer Press
Margriet Ruurs writes fiction and nonfiction. She conducts author workshops at schools around the world. www.margrietruurs.com
What is home? Home means something different to each person – real readers but also to fictional characters in books. Through books about home, students can recognize themselves or come to appreciate what ‘home’ means for others. Happy Banned Book week!
Roger and Matthew by Michel Thériault This is a lovely, quiet story of two gentle men. They were friends in elementary school and are still best friends. They are part of their community and enjoy nature. They were not always treated kindly because they are different. But they have now been accepted and love the life they lead in their home surrounded by a garden full of birds. ISBN 9781554554843, Fitzhenry & Whiteside
In a similar vein, Patricia Polacco tells the beautiful story In Our Mother’s House in which Marmee, Meema, and the kids are just like any other family on the block. In their beautiful house, they cook dinner together, they laugh together, and they dance together. But some of the other families don’t accept them because they are different. How can a family have two moms and no dad? But Marmee and Meema’s house is full of love. They teach their children that different doesn’t mean wrong. That living in a house full of love is always right. An older title but every bit as relevant. ISBN 978-0399250767, Philomel
And what if your new home is in a different country? What if you don’t speak the language? My Words Flew Away Like Birds by Debora Pearson, illustrated by Shrija Jain is a lovely story about a girl who moves to a new country. All the words she used to have she can no longer use. And the few words she learned in English proof not to be very helpful. People speak too fast and she can’t understand their tumbling words. Not only a story for kids who recognize this situation, but also a good story to see how easy it can be to help a newcomer. Reminiscent of Aidan Cassie’s book The Word for Friend, this is a fun story to read as well as to start a classroom discussion. ISBN 978-1-5253-0318-0, Kids Can Press
The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner. This is one of my favourite middle school novels because it combines a good story with the skills of geocaching. Since his dad left him and his mom, ”Zig” Zigonski lives for simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than people -especially his father, who he hasn’t seen in over a year. When his dad’s latest visit is canceled without explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a GPS unit he finds at a garage sale. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town, Zig sets out to find him. But he soon discovers that people aren’t always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there’s more than one set of coordinates for home. An engaging story about hope and family. ISBN 978-1681198989, Bloomsbury
Unravel by Sharon Jennings is a wonderful page turner for middle graders. Rebecca was raised by her single father. She’s turning into an avid reader but realizes that her life is unusual. They had no friends, she doesn’t go to school and they move suddenly many times. As Rebecca gets older the story of her life begins to unravel… Soon nothing is as it seemed. With the help of a new found friend, Rebecca discovers the truth behind her dad and their life together and ‘home’ will never be the same. ISBN 9780889956193, Red Deer Press
But what if you are homeless? Story Boat by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Rashin Kheiiriyeh says that home is ‘here’ – wherever you are. Home can be a cup, or a blanket. Home can be ever changing as you move in search of a place to stay. The art in this new picture book depicts refugee families as they move along in search of a new home, treasuring shelter, a light, a book along the way.
ISBN 978-0-7352-6359-8, Tundra Books
No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen is one of my favourite middle grade novels about homelessness because it shows, in a gentle way, how easy easily and how randomly, one can become homeless. Felix is twelve. His mom struggles to hold on to jobs. When she can’t pay the ever increasing rent, the two live in their van – just for one summer month. But when school starts in September, they still live in their van and Felix needs to keep their homelessness a secret. A realistic, endearing and almost humorous story about a very real problem that gets solved in unexpected ways. ISBN 978-0735262775, Random House
Margriet Ruurs’ home is on Canada’s west coast where she writes books for children as well as a blog about her travels, paired with favourite books: www.globetrottingbooklovers.com
In this column I share my favourite books to read aloud, curl up with and put into the hands of young readers. This week, a look at books about libraries and books.
The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians is perhaps my all-time favorite book about libraries. I can’t decide what I like more – the words by Carla Morris or the pictures by Brad Sneed; but the result of this combination is a heartwarming love song to librarians. Melvin grows up surrounded by books. The librarians encourage him to be curious and to look for answers in books and online. Their investment pays off in a perfect ending that I won’t give away. You will have to read this book for yourself.. or better yet, to your students. ISBN 978-1-56145-391-7, Peachtree
The Library Lion by Michelle Knudson, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, looks and feels like a classic. It’s the wonderful story of rules made to be broken, of a librarian who is not easily ruffled and of a lion who loves listening to story. A must-share with young readers in a school library! ISBN 978-0-7636-3784-2, Candlewick
The Lady With The Books, Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Marie Lafrance is based on the true story of Jella Lepman, a German Jewish journalist who believed in building global friendship and understanding through children’s books. She traveled around war-torn Germany with a display of international books, and initiated the International Youth Library as well as IBBY, the International Board of Books for Young People, a global organization that still promotes children’s books around the world today. A wonderful fictional read complemented by nonfiction details in the back matter. SBN 978-1-5253-0154-4, Kids Can Press
It’s A Book, Lane Smith. A book doesn’t need a mouse, it doesn’t need to be charged. A book may not need wifi or be able to tweet, but a book can draw you right in. For hours… You may like a book so much that you don’t want to give it back. And even then you won’t need to charge it. Because it’s a book. A hilarious story to share out loud. ISBN 978-1-59643-606-0, Roaring Brook Press
A Child of Books byJeff Oliver and Sam Winston is a fabulous ode to stories. The art is made of papers and typeset words. “I come from a world of stories, and upon my imagination I float…” shows a child on a raft floating on a sea of words that a reader will recognize from many classics. The book shows a world made from stories and lends itself to be read to children of all ages as well as used with high school art students. A great gift for booklovers of any age. ISBN 978-1-4063-5831-5, WALKER
The Undercover Book List, Colleen Nelson is a fabulous middle grade novel. It’s a story grounded in a school library and books, focused on friendship. Jane loves to read but misses her best friend who moved away. Tyson is into video games and does not like to read. But through the secret messages left in books in their school library, both main characters change and make new friends. A great story for book worms and kids who have to move and make new friend. Also perfect for the teacher to read aloud. ISBN 978-1-77278-187-8, Pajama Press
The Library of Ever by Zeno Alexander is a fictional novel about Lenora who is curious. In magical, fantastical adventures she travels through the ages and around the globe, all entering a library. Hired as the Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian, Lenora 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. In the sequel – Rebel of the Library of Ever – Lenore has to free knowledge from the shadows. Your upper elementary students will love these smart, sci-fi page turners. ISBN 978-1250169174, Imprint.
Ban This Book, Alan Gratz. No column about school libraries would be complete without this title which deals skillfully with the difficult topic of censorship of books in an elementary school library. While showing both sides of the issue, Gratz leaves the power to solve the problem to the kids, especially to Amy Anne who loves her school library. 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. A great read, even for teachers. ISBN 978-0-7653-8558-1
Margriet Ruurs is the author of My Librarian is a Camel, a nonfiction book about unique mobile libraries around the world. She conducts author presentations at international schools.
When teaching writing to children, we often talk about the importance of voice. Who is telling the story? Is it a narrator or a character? The following picture books and novels all use a unique voice to tell their story.
If Only… by Mies van Hout is a colourful picture book for the youngest readers, in which the voice of a child wishes he/she was a butterfly. But the butterfly wishes it was a different insect. From ladybugs to spiders, all critters voice their wishes until the story comes full circle. In addition to the story there is information about each creature as well as instructions for making your own colourful art.
ISBN 978-1-77278-196-0, Pajama Press
Hello, Dark by Wai Mei Wong gives voice to a child who is afraid of the dark. “I hear you creak, and cast shadows all around,” he whispers, alone in bed. But soon he realizes that the dark helps animals at night, even helps the moon shine bright. Soon he is no longer scared but plays games with his new found friend.
ISBN 978-1-77278-221-9, Pajama Press
Wolves by Emily Gravett is an older picture book with a quirky voice that slightly older students love. Rabbit goes to the library and find a book about wolves. The information becomes more and more vivid. Rabbit has a close encounter but, luckily, this story has a happy ending. The art adds to the text and is fun to explore and discuss. The pages include mail with real envelops and letters to Rabbit.
ISBN 978-1-4050-5362-4, MacMillan
Time For Bed’s Story by Monica Arnaldo is written in an unusual voice – that of the bed! Bed knóws that you don’t want to go to bed, and toss and turn. But have you ever considered Bed’s feelings? A fun bedtime read for parents to share with their young readers!
ISBN 978-1-5253-0239-8, Kids Can Press
The Coconut Crab by Peter W. Fong
This 200 page middle grade novel is a fun and beautiful read. With facts about the main characters – a coconut crab, a goat, a bird and a gecko – based on nonfiction, the story is a well written fictional tale reminiscent of folk tales. Based on a tropical island, Coconut Crab faces dangers and makes new friends, learning about the natural world while exploring the world of man. The voice that tell this story, with faint echoes of The Life of Pi, is beautiful and made me imagine vivid images. The humour and emotions conjured up by the characters was similar to watching the Madagascar or Finding Nemo movies in which quirky animals banter with each other. A fascinating read that may be labeled for kids but can be equally entertaining for adults who love a good tale.
ISBN 978-1-9505845-7-4, Green Writers Press
Margriet Ruurs, MEd, conducts author presentations at schools around the world. Her latest title is Come, Read With Me, ISBN 978-1459817876
These global picture books and novels are placed in different countries. Reading stories from around the world will help students of all ages to both appreciate other cultures as well as recognize their own cultural backgrounds.
My Heart in Kenya by Ruth Beardsley. This is a true story, in picture book format with photos, of a family living in a refugee camp and being selected to come to Canada. However, one person was not on their application and thus could not come. Nasteha was only two months when her family had to leave her behind in Kenya. This is the story of how, eventually, they were reunited. The photos give a good impression of life in a refugee camp and of a very real problem that effects many families. Written by an educator, the book has a website: www.myheartinkenya.ca with complementary resources. ISBN 978-1525-566-806
Tea Time Around The World by Denyse Waissbluth, illustrated by Chelsea O’Byrne. Who knew tea could be so fascinating! This colourful picture book has a main fictional text in large font, complemented by text in smaller font that gives nonfiction details about each country and their tea customs. From butter tea in Tibet to a Japanese tea ceremony – from English high tea to the modern bubble tea, this is a fun book to share and then have a tea party. ISBN 978-177164-601-7, Greystone Kids
Part of the Travels With My Family series, Travels in Cuba by Marie-Louise Gay and David Homel is the story of Charlie on a family holiday in Cuba. As they explore the country, Charlie meets kids, makes friends and learns things about Cuba. The book is sprinkled with words and expressions in Spanish. The series includes chapter books for Grades 2-5 about a variety of countries including Croatia, Mexico and France. ISBN 978-1-77306-347-8, Groundwood Books
The Camino Club by Kevin Craig. I read this teen novel as an e-book. It is a very realistic account of a group of juvenile delinquents – reminiscent of Ben Mikaelson’s Spirit Bear but for older students – whose punishment for a variety of crimes, is to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain with counsellors. Since the real experience is transforming, the fictional teens, too, are transformed by confronting each other, by confessing sins, by meeting new people and by the very act of walking a long distance trail. The teens’ foul language may be realistic in this setting but it almost turned me of off reading on. I’m glad I did, though, as the story gets gripping and you do want to know what happens to each teen in the end. ISBN 978-1945053979, Duet Books
Placed not just in another part of the world, but also in a different era is The Day The Pirates Went Mad, a middle grade novel by Trevor Atkins.
This is a fictional story placed in the early 1700’s. The details about the ways of living, customs, food, clothing and especially ships is impressive. The story is well written so I could ‘see’ it unfold as Emma escaped a Bristol, UK orphanage and find her place on a ship that trades around the world. She sails to Africa and beyond, learning from the rest of the crew, often comprised of female sailors. The story is gripping – I couldn’t put it down. The author’s thorough research and knowledge of the topic and era truly bring the story to life. Any student interested in history and/or pirates will love this novel.
Poetry is a universal language. These books, both new and old, invite readers to explore the world.
Gifts by Jo Ellen Bogart, illustrated by Barbara Reid, is one of my all-time favourite picture books. Whenever I visit international schools, I try to bring this book as a gift. The illustrations are fantastic, made of plasticine, and full of detail. The text is poetic with fun information about different countries and with a wonderful flow to read aloud. The story is about a young girl whose grandmother travels the world and sends home gifts: a baobab seed from Africa, the roar from the jungle king, and a secret wish of a flying fish from Hawaii. Throughout the images, the girl grows up. In the end she is the one traveling the world, inspired by her grandmother. The book is also available in Spanish. ISBN 978-0-590-24935-5
Poem in My Pocket by Chris Tougas, illustrated by Josée Bisaillon is a clever rhyming picture book celebrating poetry. What if you keep poems in your pocket but your pocket has a hole? Words tumble and float everywhere, even the letters get all mixed up. But in the end a wonderful thing happens – you can grow a poet tree. Great to use with elementary students of all ages. ISBN 978-1-5253-0145-2
My own newest picture book is also in poetry format: Come, Read With Me is illustrated by Christine Wei. It is a poetic celebration of books and fairy tales. Two children follow the piped piper, meet whales and princesses and a puss in boots as they read books at bedtime. ISBN 978-1-4598178-76
Judi Moreillon’s book Read To Me as been out for many years but remains a wonderful book to share with both students and parents. It emphasizes the importance of reading aloud to children, of setting a reading example and sharing books, stories and songs in any language. I love sharing this poem with parents. It is also available in Spanish and in Vietnamese. ISBN 1-932065-49-0
Melissa Sweet is one of my favourite illustrators. William Carlos Williams became a Pulitzer Prize winning poet by following his heart into nature and by writing even during his medical studies and work as a doctor. A River of Words is his beautifully told biography by Jen Bryant, illustrated in gorgeous collage by Melissa Sweet. A book that shows young readers to listen to their heart and focus on what is important to them. ISBN 978-0-8028-5302-8
Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate is a brilliant free-verse novel. A gentle, spellbinding story of Kek and his mother who came to the USA from Africa. Struggling with winter, housing and no extended family or friends, Kek learns to make a new life for himself in a new country. An eye-opening tale of what it is like to be a refugee. Great as a classroom read-a-loud. ISBN 978-0-312-53563-6
Books truly can be a window to the world. While reading, you can live in another country, learn what life is like in a different culture while discovering both the world and yourself. The following books shed light on a variety of settings and situations and help to create awareness.
111 Trees, How One Village Celebrates the Birth of Each Girl, Rina Singh, Marianne Ferrer A wonderful true story from India, this book shows how one person can change the world. Traditionally, people in Sundar’s village had welcomed boy babies but not celebrated the birth of a girl. After the loss of his mother and a daughter, Sundar changes the minds of the villagers when he shows them how the earth needs to be replenished by planting trees. The parched earth recovers, it brings water and food to the village. Now his village plants 111 trees each time a girl is born and life has much improved for everyone. Sundar has changed his village and sent a message to other places around the world, encouraging eco-feminism. ISBN 978-1-5253-0120-9
One Hen, Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes. This is one of my all-time favorite books on the topic of service learning. So simple, yet so brilliant. Based on the true story of Kojo in Ghana, this book shows how one little thing can grow in a big one. Kojo starts borrowed money and buys one hen. Now Kojo and his mom can eat an egg and soon he has enough to sell some. Carefully he saves his money to pay off his loan, then he saves until he can buy another hen. Eventually Kojo can afford to attend school by selling eggs. Read this book with any grade level and you can enrich it by saving up $25.- to extend a loan to someone in need through KIVA.org – online micro lending. Your students can select a country and the person they wish to help. ISBN 978-1-55453-028-1 Teaching guides: http://www.onehen.org/
See Where We Come From by Scot Ritchie takes a group of friends, all with different ethnic backgrounds. They prepare for their school’s Heritage Fair. Martin shares music and food from Japan, Sally brings smoked salmon and a cedar bark basket. Football from Brazil and koshary from Egypt help to celebrate a wide variety of customs and tradtitions. In the end pages, the book encourages family stories and shows how to make a Heritage box of treasures ISBN 978-1-5253-0497-2.
Gift Days by Kari-Lynn Winters, is a picture book for ages 8 up. This is the touching story of Nassali who longs to learn to read and write like her brother, Baaba. But since her mother’s death, Nassali is responsible for looking after her younger siblings and running the household. There is no time for books and learning. But one day she wakes up to discover that her chores have already been done. It is her first gift day. From that day on, once a week, Baaba gives Nassali the gift of time so that she can pursue her dream of an education, just as her mother would have wanted. The book itself is also raising money for the charity. Through the organization I am a Girl, which focuses on education and women’s rights, money has been raised to send girls to school in Uganda for a full year. ISBN-10 1554551927; ISBN-13 9781554551927 Check out: http://kariwinters.com/gift-days
The International Day of the Girl, Jessica Dee Humphreys and Rona Ambrose, illustrated by Simone Shin. What happens if half a garden does not get tended, watered and gets trampled? This is the comparison made in an important new picture book that explains the need for, and origins of, the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl. Through real stories of girls around the world, the book shows the importance of education and nurturing skills in girls. It also emphasizes how men and boys can make a difference, contribute to and benefit from the well -being of half of the earth’s population. ISBN 978-1-5253-0058-5
Walking for Water – How One Boy Stood Up For Gender Equality, by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Nicole Miles Victor loves going to school in his village in Malawi. But when they turn eight, his twin sister Linesi has to do what women and girls have always done: bring much needed water to the village. When Victor’s teacher talks about equality, he realizes that this is not happening. Slowly he finds ways to help and change both the way things were always done and the minds of other boys in town. Based on a true story, the book offers words in Chichewa, as well as information on support organizations. ISBN 978-1-5253-0249-7
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. Also based on a true story but written for older students, this novel is the skillfully told tale of two African children who face hardships. A boy, Salva, is one of the ‘lost boys’ of Sudan. One day while in class, shooting starts as rebel forces reach his village. He walks and walks and walks in hopes of reaching safety, a new land where he can face a new future. A girl, Nya, lives in Sudan many years later. She, too, has to walk and walk. Eight hours a day to gather water for her family. She cannot go to school because the need for water is greater.
The two parallel stories intertwine when Salva, now with an American college degree, comes back to Sudan to build wells with the aid of Rotary International. This changes the lives of many Sudanese. A great story for all ages to share and discuss in the classroom. One of my local schools holds an annual Walk for Water day, educating students and raising funds to help build more wells in Africa. A picture book, to use with younger students to tie into the same theme is Hope Springs by Eric Walters. ISBN 978-0-547-57731-9
Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action by Darlene Foster. This book is the latest in a series of action/travel novels about Amanda. Each one is set in a different, real location and shares details about that country. In Holland, Amanda and her best friend Leah, see all the popular sights: tulips, canals, Anne Frank House, windmills, and even a wooden shoe factory. They learn about customs and traditional dishes. But Amanda is also here to discover what happened to her great uncle, who never returned to Canada after World War II. In the midst of her adventures, following clues about her uncle, she rescues an abandoned puppy. While trying to find him a home, she meets a Dutch boy who offers to help, a suspicious gardener and a strange woman on a bicycle. Upper elementary and middle school readers will enjoy following young traveler Amanda around Holland as she encounters danger and intrigue while trying to solve another mystery in a foreign country. Other locations in this series of print and ebooks include the Danube, New Mexico, Alberta, Spain, England and more. ASIN: B07L9LVK4J
Margriet Ruurs is a Canadian author who conducts author talks and writing workshops for international schools, in person and via ZOOM.
Eric Walters is the author of over 100 books. His work includes picture books, early read novels and novels for teens and young adults. Many of these books are ‘everybody’ books and are often realistic fiction based on true stories. He was instrumental in building an orphanage in Kenya, which I was able to visit once. Many of his books reflect the true adventures of some 80 children who live here and are now able to attend school. Here are some of his titles that should be in all international classrooms:
My Name Is Blessing, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes (ISBN 978-1-77049-301-8) This is a beautifully told tale, based on a true story, which takes the reader to the home of a wise, Kenyan grandmother who cares for many children as best as she can. The last pages of the book offer nonfiction information about the real boy whose name was changed to Blessing and whose future was changed by an orphanage.
Hope Springs, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes (ISBN-13 : 978-1770495302)This story shows the struggle, in Africa, to get water. The children at the orphanage have to walk daily to the public well to collect and carry back jugs of water. They stand in long line-ups but, one day, are no longer welcome. Is it fear that there will not be enough for the community if they let the orphans use their well? When the building of the orphanage’s own well is completed, Boniface has an idea to help the villagers. A lovely story of kindness, it shows that, through compassion and understanding, true generosity can spring from unexpected places. This book is perfect if your school takes part in an annual Walk For Water project.
Light A Candle, co-authored with Godfrey Nkongolo and illustrated by Eva Campbell (ISBN 978-1-4598-1700-5) is the story of the birth of the nation of Tanzania. It was the wish of President Nyerere to light a flame atop Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa, to show the world hope for the future. Eric Walters climbed Kilimanjaro. The book is published in English and Swahili and gives background information in addition to a touching story of a young Chagga boy.
The Wild Beast, illustrated by Sue Todd (ISBN 978-1-4598-1589-6) reads like a myth, a legend, an old folktale. Africa’s wildebeest looks like it was created from spare parts. Eric Walters ran with this idea. Beautifully told, in words and vibrant images, this is the story of how the creator made sky and earth, then birds, fishes and mammals. Heeding her own message not to waste anything, she then creates the wildebeest. A delightful tale when studying myths and legends. Also look for The Matatu: based on folk tales, it tells a humorous story of the famous African busses full of people and animals.
Today Is The Day, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes (ISBN 978-1-77049-648-4). Until reading this picture book, I had not realized that an orphan may not know his birth date. And if you don’t have one, you can’t apply for a passport or other important papers. Today Is The Day is based on the true experience Walters had when he gave the children a birth date as well as a gigantic party! A great book as basis for classroom discussions.
Hockey Night in Kenya, co-authored with Danson Mutinda (ISBN 978-1459823617) is a brand new release – a chapter book for beginning readers. It tells the story of orphans in Kenya who learn about a thing called ice hockey. They have never seen ice but read a Canadian magazine with pictures of a hockey team. Through hard work, kind friends and good luck, dreams can come true and even an orphan can end up having roller blades and a hockey stick.
Just Deserts by Eric Walters (ISBN 978-0143179351). A middle grade-and-up novel that will appeal especially to boys, Just Deserts is the story of a spoiled, wealthy boy who gets expelled from boarding school. In typical Eric Walters fashion, this page turner is full of adventure and suspense, when Ethan is dropped in the middle of the Sahara and left to his own devices.
Walking Home (978-0385681575), this novel made me cry at the end! It is a touching, interesting, heart warming and well written story. This is the story of a brother and sister, orphaned in a troubled, violent time in Kenya. They decide to walk to the region where their mother grew up, in hopes of finding relatives who will take them in. Rather than be separated by government officials who will place them in different homes, they walk over 200 KM, through Nairobi, through villages and deserted stretches. Not only did the author make this trek himself, he also built an orphanage and supports it financially with the help of many schools in Canada. The story takes the reader right along on this amazing walk, introduces us to Kenyan customs and beliefs and shows the landscape and fabric of African life. it is backed up by a website full of resources including videos and ways to connect: https://ericwalterswalkinghome.com/
And finally, From The Heart of Africa (ISBN 978-1-77049-719-1). “It takes a village to raise a child” is likely one of the best known wisdoms from Africa. The author collected many sayings that traditionally share wisdom passed from one generation to the next. Beautifully illustrated these aphorisms form a book for both children and adults and will make great discussion points for any classroom.
Discovering a ‘new’ favourite author can be a great classroom tool. Their books can be part of a series or they can be very different from each other. Today I’d like you to meet Wendy Orr. Born in Canada, she lives in Australia and writes award winning books.
Nim’s Island is a heartwarming tale of a spunky girl living (almost) alone on a deserted Pacific Island. Reminiscent of Pippi Longstocking, Nim is self sufficient and, together with her closest friends – a sea lion and an iguana – saves the day when her scientist father is lost at sea. This book can be followed up by watching the movie starring Jodie Foster as Alex Rover, the adventure author who joins to help Nim.
There are two more titles in the series: Rescue at Sea – which deals with animals in captivity and a mad professor who trains them and wants to use them for research. Nim travels on a cruise ship as stow-away and makes new friends in the process. ASIN : B00166YC9C
In Rescue on Nim’s Island, she discovers a rare fossil and has to defend her island from exploitation. All three books make for good elementary classroom readings and discussions. ASIN : B00YVBQXFU
Very different from Nim’s Island, is Wendy Orr’s Bronze Age series. Dragonfly Song was inspired by a drawing, a found flint, and Wendy’s interest in archeology. This fantasy novel is aimed at upper middle grade readers. As I read the suspense full tale of Aissa whom the villagers see as cursed, and who is mute, I kept thinking that this is a bit like the Hunger Games for slightly younger readers. It’s a real page turner and won a long list of awards.
Swallow’s Dance takes us to Greek Islands and an era where people paid tribute to the Goddess as directed by the Oracle. Any reader interested in myths, legends and ancient history will be enthralled by this series – each book of which can be read independently.
The newest title, being released in March, is Cuckoo’s Flight – a coming-of-age story in which Clio battles the political power of the palace and her own feelings of inadequacy to save her town, her horses, and perhaps even herself. All three novels in this series are skillfully written in a blend of prose and free verse.
Not all people are the same. Recognizing yourself in a story can be a powerful experience. The right book can be a tool to reach out and help a child. Here are some books that show how people can experience different feelings, emotions and conditions.
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox is a beautifully written picture book that introduces very young readers to the concept of Alzheimers and memory loss. This story is so skillfully told that it will appeal to readers of all ages. Wilfrid Gordon lives next to a seniors’ home and knows all of the residents. Through sparse language we learn, as does he, what it means to lose memories. Wilfrid Gordon collects objects, each one of which helps his friend to remember special things in life. Highly recommended for classroom discussions. ISBN 978-0916291266
Duck Days by Sara Leach is a novel for ages 7 – 11. Third grade student Lauren has Autism Spectrum Disorder and experiences some things a bit different from her friends. Lauren has learned how to handle her own reactions and copes just fine. In this story her friend challenge her to ride a bike without training wheels. When her class has a bike workshop, Lauren is not happy but eventually overcomes her fears and triumphs. This book is part of a well written series for young kids on Autism and Asperger’s. ISBN 978-1772781489, Pajama Press
Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is written in the first person, which is a brave and bold move by this award winning author. Because Melody, the main character, has cerebral palsy. She cannot speak, her limbs move involuntarily, she drools and makes funny sounds. What no one realizes is that Melody’s brain works perfectly. She remembers facts, she gets match, she can spell like the best of them but she cannot let anyone know. Imagine the words and thoughts all stuck inside your brain and no way to let them out… Thanks to Draper’s skillful writing, we are inside Melody’s head and feel her frustration. This book is a must-read for all booklovers, but a special eye opener for all those (educators) who work with children who have physical challenges. ISBN 141697170X (ISBN13: 9781416971702)
Other highly recommended titles include:
Petey by Ben Mikaelsen (cerebral palsy); Wonder by R.J. Palacio (disfigurement); A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass (synaesthesia); Rules by Cynthia Lord (autism)
Margriet Ruurs writes books for children and speaks at schools around the world.
Sharing stories, expertise, and experiences from international educators around the world