Novels discussed here are suitable for students in the Grade 4 – 7 range and beyond. (Depending on the book and depending on the child) Here are some favourites. This page will continue to be updated as new titles are read. So check back frequently.
I’m a big fan of Canadian writer Kenneth Oppel. This book, Half Brother, is probably my favourite of any of his novels. This story is set in the 1970s in Victoria, BC and is all about the Tomlin family – Mom, Dad, 13 year old Ben and Zan, the new baby. Zan is a chimpanzee. Ben’s father is a behavioural scientist and his newest project is all about whether chimps can acquire advanced langauge skills. At 8 days old, Zan is brought into the Tomlin household to live like a brother to Ben and to be taught to sign. Ben faces issues similar to any 13 year old boy – going to high school, liking a girl, being the new kid. . . Yet, living like he lives with a “test chimp” for a brother, life is nothing like that of his peers and the decisions he is forced to make challenge everything he knows. Amazing.
Moon is 10 years old and for as long as he can remember, has lived in the forest with his father who is determined that they have minimal contact with the outside world. They need to avoid the government, depend on no one and always be prepared for “someone coming for them.” When Moon’s father dies, Moon tries to carry out his father’s wishes and head to Alaska to find others who will be like him. But getting to Alaska from Alabama alone is not an easy feat. Along the way, Moon is caught and placed into the system – a boy’s home on lock down. His escape attempt is successful but nothing else is simple. Friends and enemies enter into this new world in ways he is not at all prepared for. He can make a shelter, eat from the forest, “whip up on anybody” but how does he deal with this outside world that he might in fact need? A real story of survival. Compelling. Alabama Moon is written by Watt Key.
Rebecca Stead’s Newbery Medal winning novel When You Reach Me is a book you want to reread as soon as you finish the final page. Partly to make sure all of those nagging questions now truly do make sense and partly because it is just that good. Set in 1979 – a book about a regular girl Miranda living in New York City with her Mom. But interwoven with the everyday occurrences of twelve year old life – walking home from school, a “sort of” part time job, sleepovers and latch key life are mysterious events that are far from ordinary. Strange notes keep turning up with requests and clues that spook and intrigue Miranda – how is it that the author knows what will happen before it happens and just how exactly will her friend’s life be saved? (“I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own”) Truly original. Read a more detailed summary here.
Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass is narrated by 3 main characters: Ally, Bree and Jack as they tell the stories of how their lives intertwine at the Moonshadow campground in the days leading up to a spectacular solar eclipse. Each character is wonderfully vulnerable and honest- their new friendships alter the course of their thinking as much as their experiences under the stars do. A wonderful story about how perspective is shaped by confidence, experience and attitude and how when we open ourselves up, the universe teaches us. Love all of the astronomy facts throughout the book. Makes you want to stargaze, ask big questions and appreciate possibility.
Gary D. Schmidt has a knack for writing utterly likeable characters – witty, honest and far from perfect but yet, just the kind of kid you want to know. I found myself rooting for Holling Hoodhood, main character of the Wednesday Wars from the first chapter on. Yes, Holling has to contend with a lot: Wednesday afternoon Shakespeare (which turns out to be pretty darn amazing), classroom rats who hide in the ceiling tiles, an obnoxious father and a “keep the peace” mother and a teacher who hates him (not even close). The worst things: yellow tights with feathers on the behind, a sister who runs off and the war in Vietnam. The best things – growing up over a challenging year inspired by Shakespeare, a quietly clever teacher and experiences that he takes on in his own humble style.
I confess this book sat on my “To Be Read” pile for a long time. I feared the emotions it might invoke. Well, you can’t escape tears in reading this book but Sharon Draper‘s Out of my Mind is giving. Laughter. Spunk. Compassion. And it offers challenges: many not happy endings and how exactly do you deal with that? Discrimination. Pre-teen cruelty. Melody is eleven and she has never spoken a single word. She can’t walk. Or write. She lives with a head full of words and an intelligence that rivals most around her. Yet none of it is apparent except to her family and wonderful neighbour Mrs. V. Life changes when she finds a way to begin communicating with the world. Hers is a voice you might never forget. Highly recommended.
This book is strangely appealing. I appreciated being stuck with Jack in what seems to be a go nowhere summer. Permanantly grounded, escape comes to Jack in a peculiar way: writing dictated obituaries for his neighbour Miss Volker. (And learning a lot of local history in the process as a surprising bonus) I’m a sucker for atypical friendships – like the one between Jack and Miss Volker. Twelve year old boy and spunky senior – the dynamics are fabulous. And of course there are some aspects of this bok that are simply divine, even if they are also grotesque. The wax and the hands. The poisoned mice. Hell’s Angels and suspicious fires. The over excited nose that bleeds with any strong emotion. I think this book will stay with me for a while. And make me smile. Jack Gantos won the Newbery for this title.
Katherine Applegate invites us into a world narrated by the wonderful Ivan. Mighty Silverback. Star of the Exit 8 Big Top Mall. Ivan is so much more than an oddball mall attraction. He narrates this story and The One and Only Ivan tells the story of his life. The story of when he found a reason to get angry because he had someone to protect. Ivan’s story is one of relationships. It is about Stella and Ruby, important elephants. About Bob the dog who is wise and aloof. And little Julia who inspires and understands Ivan’s art. This may be a story mostly about animals but I haven’t read something in a long time that so reminded me of my humanity. How we are all vulnerable. Raw. Hopeful. Somewhat scared. This book is a must read, a gift to yourself. Its impact is priceless.
Kenneth Oppel has crafted a story full of adventure, fantasy, suspense and high drama aboard the Aurora, an airship sailing through some sort of alternate history. Matt Cruse is a cabin boy who is more at home in the air than on the ground and calls the Aurora home. He meets passenger Kate de Vries who has come aboard to find out if the mysterious creatures her grandfather spotted from his hot air balloon might exist. Matt is intrigued by the possibility and attracted to Kate’s independent spirit. These two characters find themselves beginning a quest of proportions they would never have dreamed about. Pirates. Mysterious creatures never before discovered. Storms. Seemingly deserted islands. Shipwrecks. And villians you would never want to encounter. Airborn is the first book in a trilogy.