With kids going back into the classroom next week, teachers might need some new books to excite their young readers. And let’s not forget older offerings, suggested by teachers, librarians and children’s book writers, that can always be enjoyed, including some awesome award-winners.
New in Canadian history
Fred & Marjorie: A Doctor, a Dog, and the Discovery of Insulin by Deborah Kerbel, illustrated by Angela Poon (Owlkids, 8-12) is a new graphic novel that makes history come alive. It takes readers back to a sizzling summer in Toronto in 1921 and into the life and laboratory of Dr. Frederick Banting, who with his assistant, Charles Best, discovered insulin 100 years ago. It’s also the story of the street dogs who were essential to their work, in particular, a test animal whom Banting formed a special bond with and named Marjorie, and the key role she played.
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Children’s writers Lisa Moore and Kevin Major highly recommend Bernice Morgan’s Seasons Before the War, charmingly illustrated by Brita Granstrom (Running the Goat, 5-13). Morgan gives young readers a chance to see a very different Canada as she gives them a tour of her childhood growing up in St. John’s just before the Second World War. As readers follow Morgan through the four seasons, they get to know her colourful family and a city that is bursting with things to discover and brimming with possibilities.
Paul Yee’s 1989 collection of stories, Tales from Gold Mountain, illustrated by Simon Ng (Groundwood, 8+), won both the IODE and the Sheila A. Egoff awards and offers a different way of approaching history. Based on his extensive research into the lives of Chinese immigrants to Canada and the role they played in the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the gold rush and the settling of the West Coast, Yee’s stories offer readers a portrait of the triumphs and tragedies Chinese-Canadians faced at the end of the 19th century.
New in learning about indigenous issues
As adept at writing for young people as he is for adults, Thomas King has adapted his short story Borders (HarperCollins, 10-14) into a graphic novel, brilliantly illustrated by Natasha Donovan, and it’s both an accessible and extremely powerful way to begin classroom discussions about Indigeneity. On a trip to visit his sister in Salt Lake City, a young boy and his mother are asked to declare their citizenship at the Canada-U.S. border. When his mother tells the guards that they’re Blackfoot, they find themselves caught up in a no man’s land between countries that don’t seem to understand that to Indigenous peoples, borders like this one aren’t real.
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Teachers across Canada have used Richard Van Camp’s 1998 book, What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses?, illustrated by George Littlechild (Children’s Book Press, 5+) as a discussion tool. Asked to write a book about horses, Van Camp admits that he didn’t know what to do because, as a member of the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation from the Northwest Territories, horses played no role in his life or that of his culture and community. He playfully asks family and friends what they think is the most beautiful thing they know about horses and in doing so asks readers to confront the problems of stereotyping Indigenous peoples.
Plains Cree artist George Littlechild’s This Land is My Land (Children’s Book Press, 8+) won the Jane Addams Picture Book Award and the National Parenting Publications Gold Medal when it was published in 1993. Littlechild explores his Indigenous heritage in a series of exquisitely illustrated short stories that follow his own journey making connections with his history and culture and explores how Indigenous peoples are often misrepresented by the outside world. His vibrant art makes use of family photographs to bring past and present together.
New in learning about fitting in
Being different isn’t easy as 11-year-old Meranda knows all too well. She loves her over-protective parents but they’re stifling her. And when the family travels to Cape Breton for a funeral, things seem to get even worse. But is it because Meranda has cerebral palsy or are there things her parents have been keeping secret from her? Meagan Mahoney’s debut novel, Meranda and the Legend of the Lake (Owlkids, 8-12), is an engaging mystery that is chock to the brim with East Coast folklore, intrigue and a feisty heroine who knows she can stand on her own two feet even if her parents don’t think she can.
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Angel Square by Brian Doyle (Groundwood, 8-12) is a great book that is always well-worth revisiting, as writers as diverse as Linda Granfield, Tim Wynne-Jones and Sandra Martin attest. The Canadian classic is set in Ottawa just after the end of the Second World War. Tommy sets out to find out who beat up his best friend’s father; rumour has it the attack was racially motivated. A powerful exploration of how racism tears apart communities and lives, Angel Square is also one of the funniest novels that you can share with young readers.
What would you do if you suddenly found yourself confronted by a giant talking tiger called Hobbes after you’ve just been diagnosed with schizophrenia? That’s what happens to the 17-year-old hero in Martine Leavitt’s Governor General’s Literary Award winner Calvin (Groundwood, 12+). Calvin is convinced that if he can only get comic strip writer Bill Watterson to draw one last cartoon panel with Calvin as a normal teenager, everything will be okay and decides to walk across a frozen Lake Erie to prove how serious he is. Leavitt’s novel is poignant and compelling.
New to read together
Alice Fleck’s Recipes for Disaster (Puffin Canada, 8-12) by Rachelle Delaney is an absolutely delicious novel. Alice and her food historian dad are going to be contestants on their favourite TV show, Culinary Chronicles. But – surprise, surprise – when they arrive they discover that the show’s been revamped and it’s now all about culinary combat and someone appears to be trying to sabotage Alice’s chances of success. But Alice isn’t going to give up without a fight.
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Book reviewers love Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake (HarperCollins, 8-12), illustrated by Jon Klassen. This delightful read-aloud book will remind readers of Arnold Lobel’s wonderful Frog and Toad series with just a dash of The Wind in the Willows and the old TV sitcom The Odd Couple thrown in for extra spice. Badger’s Very Important Rock Work seems to be endangered when he suddenly finds himself having to share his home with Skunk, who doesn’t really understand boundaries and has ideas that upset the balance of Badger’s carefully regulated life. Hilarity ensues and if readers enjoy this first instalment, Timberlake’s second book, Egg Marks the Spot (HarperCollins, 8-12) is set to be released mid-September.
What do writers James Howe and James Patterson have in common? They share enthusiasm for Polly Horvath’s ingeniously delightful Mr. and Mrs. Bunny – Detectives Extraordinaire!, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Groundwood Books, 8-12), the first of her pair of madcap Bunny books that will also delight young readers. Nastiness is afoot in Rabbitville as nefarious foxes scheme to open a canned rabbit-products and rabbit by-products factory and sadly Madeline’s hippy-dippy parents get caught up in the plot and are kidnapped. But never fear! Mr. and Mrs. Bunny are on the case. And there’s more fun to be had in her equally delectable sequel, Lord and Lady Bunny – Almost Royalty! (Groundwood, 8-12)
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