Expand your mind and build your reading list with the Books newsletter. Sign up today.
Okay, so Ontario has postponed March Break this year because of the pandemic, but millions of other kids across the country will be off school for five long days with virtually nowhere to go, leaving caregivers in despair. Luckily, we have 15 book suggestions that’ll keep kids busy this March break and beyond – even when they’re stuck in lockdown.
Rebecca’s world has never really made all that much sense since she and her dad, Joe, are constantly moving from one place to another. That all starts to unravel, literally and figuratively, after she turns 12 and they move to a new place in Toronto’s west end. Unravel by Sharon Jennings (Red Deer Press, 12+) is funny, poignant, traumatic, gut-wrenching and suspenseful and readers will delight both in Jennings’s bookish heroine and her confidante Phoebe in this absolutely enthralling novel.
Is Simon imagining it or are there really things happening in the ancient Egyptian mirror that is the prize of Mr. Hawkins’s collection? In his ominously spooky novel, The Egyptian Mirror (Pajama Press, 9-12), Michael Bedard deftly weaves readers into this mystery, which the 13-year-old unintentionally finds himself caught up in as he delves deeper and deeper into the uncanny goings-on in the life of the scholarly old archaeologist next-door.
Kenneth Oppel’s Thrive (HarperCollins, 10-14) grabs hold of readers on page one and sets them on an on-the-edge-of-your-seat roller-coaster adventure in the dazzling finale in his Bloom trilogy. As military forces and governments around the world prepare for a planetwide invasion of the aggressive cryptogenic plants and animals that have been attacking the Earth, Oppel’s trio of teen hybrids, Petra, Seth and Anaya, are waiting for the arrival of a small group of rebel cryptogens who want to help them save the world.
In case you need a little humour with your thrills and chills, check out Trip of the Dead by Angela Misri (Dancing Cat Books, 9-12), the hilarious sequel to her comical zombie thriller, Pickles vs. The Zombies. Trip, the intrepid raccoon hero of her earlier book, with a little help from his feline friend, Ginger, and Emmy the Wonder-Hamster, leaves his pet humans and sets off on a quest to see if rumours that raccoons are being held hostage in a zombie-free encampment are true.
The Case of the Burgled Bundle (Mighty Muskrats #3) by Michael Hutchinson (Second Story Press, 9-12) offers a new mystery for Hutchinson’s intrepid preteen sleuths when a sacred medicine bundle is stolen at a gathering of the National Assembly of Cree Peoples in their hometown of Windy Lake. Hutchinson neatly mixes the feel of classic children’s mysteries such as The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew with his compellingly contemporary portrait of the Mighty Muskrats, four Indigenous cousins named Chickadee, Atim, Otter and Sam. Pair this with Treaty Words for a book bundle with a punch.
Great graphic novels
Cale Atkinson introduces a new and rather unusual pair of sleuths in his Chester and Simon series with Super Detectives! (Tundra Books, 6-9). On a rainy day, Simon, a ghost with a real imagination, wants to concentrate on his latest Sherlock Holmes style who-dun-it but his human pal, Chester, wants to play. Is it possible for this dynamic duo to find a compromise? Digging through boxes in the attic gives Chester an idea – why not solve a mystery instead of just writing about one? When they discover a pug in Grandma’s kitchen who clearly doesn’t belong there, the pair are on the case – can they find out who the adorable Roy von Curly Tail belongs to? Move over Dog Man.
Oh My Gods (OMG #1), by Stephanie Cooke and Insha Fitzpatrick (HMH Books, 8-12), is the first book in a new graphic novel series introducing readers to 13-year-old Karen, who’s moved to Mount Olympus in Greece to live with her dad while her mom gets settled into a new job in New Jersey. There’s something a little different about her new school – her fellow students are all gods, goddesses and other assorted figures from Greek mythology. It’s hard for Karen to figure out where she fits in until kids at school start being turned into stone statues and the finger seems to point at her as the new girl. Who’s really responsible? If you like Rick Riordan and graphic novels, this one is definitely for you.
Road Allowance Era is the final book in Katherena Vermette’s powerful A Girl Called Echo series (Highwater Press, 12+). It brilliantly mixes the portrait of a contemporary teen named Echo, who lives in Winnipeg’s Métis community, with a time travelling adventure that takes her back to four key moments in the history of her people. Beautifully illustrated by Scott B. Henderson, this concluding book offers a heart-wrenching look at how appallingly the Métis were treated after the death of Louis Riel, denied the land they were promised time after time. Vermette solidly connects the struggles of the Métis of the past to the struggles of the Métis today.
The Frog Mother (Mothers of Xsan #4) by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson), illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Highwater Press, 9-11), like the previous books in the series, offers readers a look into the natural world as well as the cultural connections of that world to the Xsan Peoples of the West Coast. Readers are treated to an exploration of both the life cycle of frogs and, in particular, the role that frog mothers play in the lives of their offspring with the help of Donovan’s breathtaking illustrations.
Journey Around the Sun: The Story of Halley’s Comet by James Gladstone, illustrated by Yaara Eshet (Owlkids, 4-8) offers readers a comet-eye’s view of those moments in history where the world-famous cosmic snowball interacted with humankind. Gladstone not only provides readers with a “personal” account of the comet and lots of fascinating historical and scientific information but he also asks us to think about our relationship to the stars and, ultimately, the universe.
Based on her work as an eco-activist How to Change Everything: The Young Human’s Guide to Protecting the Planet and Each Other by Naomi Klein with Rebecca Stefoff (Puffin Canada, 10+) is an excellent introduction to the climate crisis but also a call to arms to young people to get involved. Klein and Stefoff do an excellent job not only providing the historical background of the climate movement and the science behind it but also introducing a host of young people who have been active in the fight for climate justice.
Picture books aren’t just for kids
Riley Can’t Stop Crying by Stéphanie Boulay, illustrated by Agathe Bray-Bourret (Orca Books, 6-10) looks at how young children become conscious of who they are as individuals. No matter what his older sister, Regina, and their father try to do, nothing seems to stop the flood of tears that just pour out of four-year-old Riley. They try everything to distract him but Riley doesn’t have the words to tell them what’s wrong. Regina realizes that what Riley needs is help to communicate what’s happening and very slowly things change. This is a book that perfectly captures in both words and pictures the struggle so many young children face to be themselves.
Seeing the world through the eyes of a child is also the focus of The Big Bad Wolf in My House by Valérie Fontaine, illustrated by Nathalie Dion (Groundwood Books, 4-8). In this story about domestic violence, almost as soon as mom’s new boyfriend moves in, he fills her daughter with fear. His eyes are so cold and they frighten her. And that fear grows as he settles in until he’s in effect trapped both mother and daughter in a web of violence from which there doesn’t appear any escape. But there is a way out and a happyish ending even if there’s no handsome prince. Dion perfectly imagines Fontaine’s heartfelt text. This isn’t any easy book but it’s an important one.
Are there really wolves and ogres and giant badgers in the forest? No one knows because no one ever goes into those dark and scary woods. But Arthur’s father is curious and in On the Other Side of the Forest by Nadine Robert, illustrated by Gérard Dubois (Greystone Kids, 4-8), the rabbit decides to take action. Gradually, and with a little help from the other rabbits in the village, he builds a tower to see what might be out there. You’ll have to read this fanciful picture book if you want to know what he and Arthur see and pay especial attention to Dubois’s illustrations because they’re an enormous part of the fun.
That words have power is key to Treaty Words: For As Long As the Rivers Flow by Aimée Craft, illustrated by Luke Swinson (Annick Press, 10+). Craft and Swinson take us into the bond between a young girl and her grandfather, Mishomis, as he teaches her about the natural world and their relationship to it as Anishinaabe people. He gently shares with her his wisdom as a teacher and elder, not only about the bush and the river, but about the treaties as well, treaties between Anishinaabe peoples and between the Anishinaabe and the Canadian government. Like Mishomis, Craft and Swinson offer readers a moving opportunity to see the world through Indigenous eyes and to learn about the treaties.