Brave Like My Brother

Dear Reader,

How wonderful to see you looking for more serious novels. Short humorous stories are fine to read once in awhile, but you are now at an age – in grade six – where you are ready to consider more mature topics. You already know that life is not always fun. Not always easy. And you are ready to read stories that depict characters in circumstances that call for courage.

But I know that you cannot yet read quickly enough to enjoy a long book with small print. So what novels can you read that are more than simply entertainment? Here’s one just for you! 

Nobleman, Marc Tyler. Brave Like My Brother. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016.

Only 100 pages long, this story is printed in a large font with lots of space between the lines and large margins. And each chapter is only 4 pages long. Actually, each chapter is a letter. Yes, a letter. It is a series of letters. The first and the last one are from Charlie, writing to his older brother, Joe, a soldier sent to England during World War II. All the others in between are from Joe, writing to tell of his experiences during the days leading up to D-Day, the Allied invasion of France.  It will not take you long to read this novel of courage in the face of bullying and fear.

And when you are finished, think about these questions: What did you learn about history from reading this story? How is being a soldier different than you expected? How do Joe and Charlie and their parents and their grandmother all show courage during the war?

pleased that you are growing into a thoughtful reader,
Ms. R.

More stories of World War II 

More stories about bullying

More stories of courage

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Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

Dear Reader,

If you like action novels and are a quick reader, you’ll have great fun with this 381-page novel about a blind orphan who is forced to work as a thief. Setting off on a great quest with three sets of magic eyes, Peter faces danger and finds friendship. He shows courage and discovers his home. Read this great novel – by a writer raised in Canada – when you have a long weekend and lots of time. Have fun!

Auxier, Jonathan. Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes: A Story. Toronto: Puffin Canada, c2011.

You notice that it’s published by Puffin. Always take at least a quick look at a Puffin book. It might not be what you are looking for right at the moment, but you can be sure it will be well written. 

Ms. R. 


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Responding to ‘Sarah, Plain and Tall’

Dear Reader,

Over and over you’ve heard that good readers make connections to what they read.  But often those connections can seem very mysterious. Often there seems to be no logical relationship between a reader’s reaction and the plot line of a story. For example, when I think of Sarah MacLachlan’s novel Sarah, Plain and Tall, I think of two children learning to love a stepmother who has come from far way to marry their father. I think of a stepmother who learns to love the flat land of the Kansas prairies after leaving her home by the sea. I think of how joy can come out of sadness and grief.

But a student in grade six saw something different in this classic American novel. “Sarah, Plan and Tall”, she wrote, “…changed my view of life. This book taught me that we should not expect too much from anyone as our expectation doesn’t always turn into the reality. When I was new in Canada, a girl became my friend at first and as she realized that I trusted her, she hurt my feelings by betraying me. She broke my trust by saying that I was her enemy and by making fun of my Indian accent and my Indian hairstyle. I trusted her again and again, I trusted her until I finally realized this year that she was not trustworthy and trusting her was my biggest mistake. From this long experience, I also learned that whatever happens in life is for the good. Every time she broke my trust, I cried a lot at home. I cried each and every single day. Now, the result of this long journey of three years is a stronger me. Finally, I am strong enough to not cry in these difficult situations and to make wise decisions….”

The next time you’re reading a novel, notice how the story affects you. Then, find a trusted friend who has read the same novel. Compare thoughts. How did the novel affect each of you differently?

Have fun!

Ms. R. 

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Responding to ‘The Doorman’s Repose’

Dear Reader,

You already know that happy readers make connections between what they see on the page and what they have experienced in real life. Sometimes those experiences are adventures of the mind – memories of other stories and other books. Other times, those experiences bring back memories of events and emotions.  It is creating those connections between two worlds that makes reading so enjoyable. 

One student in grade six, Russ, wrote about The Doorman’s Repose by Chris Raschka (New York Review Books, 2017). “What makes this book so unusual?” he wrote. “In this book, mice act like people! How humorous! Like the mice, I’ve discovered that some vacations can turn into ordeals. Once, we went to Toronto, and we got lost on the way to our cousins’ house. It took us two days to find the proper route and by that time most of our vacation had passed.”

Later, after reading more in this novel about the life of an apartment building in New York City, he wrote, “Moping pigeons cause the gravity to shift. What a ridiculous idea! In my lifetime, I have had some quite ridiculous ideas. One time I had an idea that if I went into a locked trunk, I would see all the mechanisms of the car. So I locked myself into the trunk and felt disappointed. There was no mechanism. Only after awhile did I realize I was running out of air. I screamed and kicked. Somehow my body hit an unlocking trunk button. So I was safe.”

One way to learn how to make connections is to watch for powerful sentences.  Another way is practise writing personal responses.  Of course, before you can make connections, you have to start reading. Try these secrets of great readers to start having fun!

Happy reading!

Ms. R. 


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Prove It, Josh

Dear Reader,

I’m so glad that you want to be a reader. I’m glad that you are asking for good books. But – as you’ve noticed – it’s hard to find stories for middle-schoolers that are well-written, interesting, but not too difficult to read.

What you’re already noticing is that the books that are easy for a middle school student to read tend to fall into one of two groups:

  1. Humorous stories. Silly stories. Lightweight stories about characters who like playing pranks and avoiding work.
  2. Stilted stories. Slightly awkwardly written stories intended for students who find reading difficult. 

You have now heard enough stories in class and read enough stories yourself that you know how good writing should sound. You also are mature enough that you’d rather read more serious stories than The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.  So what should you do?

Two solutions:

  1. Expand your interests. Read stories that are set in places and times that are unfamiliar to you. Read novels about characters who are unlike you. View reading as a chance to discover what it is like to be someone else. 
  2. Read the easy-to-read novels that are especially written for poor readers. Because that is what you are right now. A not-very-skilful reader. You need to build up your strength with easier books so that you can get to the novels you’d prefer to read. If you read for an hour every day, you will be amazed how much stronger you will be in a few months. 

Here’s a novel that will expand your general knowledge and help build up your speed:

Watson, Jenny. Prove It, Josh. Winlaw, BC: Sono Nis Press, 2013.

Josh has moved from Toronto to Vancouver Island to live with his dad aboard a boat. But he hasn’t made any friends and he finds it impossibly difficult to read. His dad makes him see a reading tutor but that isn’t helping his social life. Maybe winning a boat race will show the world that he isn’t worthless.

This 157-page novel has widely-spaced lines of print.The messages are easy to find: everyone has difficulties, so don’t give up when life is hard;  good character is more important than being a good reader or winning a race. The writing is somewhat awkward and there are some technical terms about sailing but just skip over the parts you don’t understand and carry on with the story. You are on your way to becoming a serious reader.

Happy reading!

Ms. R. 

P.S. Find more easy-to-read books HERE!

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The Player King

Dear Reader,

You have already enjoyed many stories about characters who set out to search for something. Perhaps you have also read or watched movie versions of these famous quests:  Homer’s Odyssey, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.  Many folktales and fantasy novels focus on a hero’s journey to find someone or something.

Here is another story that tells of a quest. But this one is not a fantasy novel. This novel is based on something that actually happened long ago in England.

Avi. The Player King. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017.

During the 1400s, two families fought to gain control of the English throne. In 1485, Henry proclaimed himself king and defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field. But Richard’s supporters did not want to give up the power they’d enjoyed. So they found a boy, Lambert Simnel, and convinced him to pretend that he was the true heir to the crown. All so they could keep their wealth and prestige. This really happened. This novel is a spell-binding tale that tells how a young penniless orphan might have been convinced that he was someone important, someone who was worthy of becoming the king. 

By the way, even though the topic is quite serious, this 195-page book isn’t difficult to read. The margins are generous. The lines of print are widely spaced. Many sentences and paragraphs are very short. There is also lots of conversation. You will undoubtedly race through this novel to find out what happens!

Ms. R.

P.S. Any story by Avi is well written. Later you might like to read Crispin, another story from the Middle Ages about a boy on a quest to discover his true worth.

More historical novels

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Dear Reader,

You asked for more stories about mythology. I know you are firmly attached to the Rick Riordan novels. That you would prefer to keep reading them on and on until there are no more left to read, so I’m gratified that you are willing to try some other authors. And I’m impressed that you so quickly read the four novels in Susan Cooper’s ‘The Dark is Rising’ series. Would you be willing to try a different type of mythology?

You’ve already enjoyed Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Norse mythology in the Riordan stories. And you’ve explored the world of King Arthur in Cooper’s stories. Now could you try a novel about a mythological creature from Jewish folklore: a golem, a creature made from inanimate material and brought to life in order to serve as a protector?

Auxier, Jonathan. Sweep: the Story of a Girl and Her Monster. Toronto: Puffin Canada, 2018.

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster is set in 1870s London. Nan Sparrow is a chimney sweep, forced to climb up chimneys and clean out soot. Remember that this is over a hundred years ago, before the age of electricity, and houses have fireplaces. And every fireplace has to be regularly cleaned. Clambering up those narrow chimneys is the job of young children forced into labour due to poverty. The golem in this novel is – of course – a mythological creature. But the setting is real. Life really was as difficult for some children as depicted in this story. So you’ll be learning more about what it felt like to live during Victorian times, as well as enjoying more of your favourite genre right now.

One more thing. Your faith – the Sikh faith – emphasizes that one’s life is to be of service to others. Several times in Sweep, you’ll see this sentence: “We save ourselves by saving others.” I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

By the way, I’ve requested more mythology books for you from the public library. Be watching. You should get a message very soon that they’re ready for pick up. Happy reading!

Ms. R.  

P.S. Always keep your eyes open for books published by Puffin. They tend to be extremely well written. 

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