Emil and Karl

Glatshteyn, Yankev. Emil and Karl. New Milford, Conn.: Roaring Brook Press, 2006.
Left alone after three men drag his mother away and threaten to return for him, nine-year old Karl runs to the home of his friend Emil. But he finds no safety. Emil’s mother is not well and is taken away, leaving both boys alone.  Aryan Karl and Jewish Emil struggle to survive in the dangerous world of Nazi-occupied Vienna, Austria. 
Many novels have been written about the Holocaust. But this one is unusual in that it was first published in 1940, before the United States even entered the war. Written in Yiddish and translated into English by Jeffrey Shandler, it is highly recommended for all readers 10 years old and up.

More books about World War 2 

More stories set in Europe

Novels of survival in extreme physical environments

Good Rosie!

DiCamillo, Kate. Good Rosie! Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2018.
Rosie is a good dog. But she’s lonely sometimes. George takes her to the dog park, but she feels overwhelmed. How will she find a friend? How can she make a friend? This delightful picture book, illustrated by Harry Bliss, will charm readers 4 to 12 years old.

The difference between popularity and friendship

Tips for making new friends

Famous fictional friends

Albert’s Quiet Quest

Arsenault, Isabelle. Albert’s Quiet Quest. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2019.

Albert wants a place where he can read in quiet. But no matter where he goes, friends arrive and rambunctiously interrupt. Until he explodes. Now what will happen? This mostly wordless summer story will be appreciated by young readers looking for peace and quiet of their own. 

More summer stories

More wordless books

More stories of books and reading

More stories of individuality

My Heart is Laughing

Lagercrantz, Rose. My Heart is Laughing. Wellington, New Zealand: Gecko Press, 2014.
Dani is always happy. Except when she is unhappy. But she does not count those times. This cheerful story about the little adventures of life is filled with quiet wisdom: Don’t give up, even when things seem hopeless. Try to think about something fun when you’re upset. Forgive people. Originally published in Sweden in 2012, this short novel with large print and wide margins is perfect for readers 7 to 10 years old. 

Some stories have an intriguing plot line. Some have finely drawn characters. But very few flow beautifully. Lyrically. And that last quality is what turns a novel into a work of art. Rose Lagercrantz’s story – translated into English by Julia Marshall and illustrated by Eva Eriksson – is a true example of writing as art.

What other novels have such rhythm and grace? Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie. Cynthia Rylant’s Missing May. Joy Cowley’s Chicken Feathers. Patricia MacLachlan’s Kindred Souls. Margery Sharp’s The Rescuers. Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree….

More great novels for young readers 

Some challenging reads for young readers

Lagrecrantz, Rose. My Happy Life. Wellington, N.Z.: Gecko Press, 2014, c2013.
Want to teach young readers how to recognize theme in novels? Want to use a novel to start philosophical discussions with 7-year-olds? Read this novel aloud and watch for true-to-life sentences.

Lagercrantz, Rose. See You When I See You. Wellington, N.Z.: Gecko Press, 2017.
This novel continues the Dani series. Although not as full of profound truths about life, it is still greatly entertaining.

The Crossroads

Dear Reader,

In the news, you hear about people illegally crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. You hear about people illegally entering Europe to escape from war in Afghanistan and Syria. You hear adults give their opinions about what should be done. You may even have your own opinion about people fleeing their home and escaping to other countries. 

But what is it like to be one of those people on the run? What is it like to be an undocumented teenager trying to survive in a new country?

Diaz, Alexandra. The Crossroads. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018.

Twelve-year-old Jaime and fifteen-year-old Angela are cousins from Guatemala living in a trailer in New Mexico. Jaime’s older brother works on a ranch and the two younger cousins go to school. But how can you feel like you belong when you can’t understand English? How can you feel safe when you don’t want anyone to know that you are in the country illegally? How can you rest when you are worried about your relatives back home?

This skillfully written story is full of plot twists and real life dilemmas will give you a new perspective on the problems of modern migration. The novel is long – 303 pages – but it is not difficult to read. There is lots of conversation, and the sentences are quite simple. I think you are ready to read a story about what it is like to be independent when you are only 12 years old. 

Ms R. 

More stories of migration

More stories about moving to a new home

 

Defiance

Dear Reader,

What are signs that you are growing up? That you are starting to leave childhood behind and starting to become a young adult? It can’t be that you merely want to make decisions for yourself. Two-year-olds want to make decisions for themselves. It can’t be that you secretly do things your parents forbid. Most children of all ages at least occasionally disobey their parents. So how does thinking for yourself and making your own decisions show maturity rather than mere selfishness?

Hobbs, Valerie. Defiance. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2005. 

Eleven-year-old Toby wants to have fun. His parents want to protect him from any possible danger. Toby has cancer. His mother wants him to stay close to their cabin in the country, out of the sun and away from anything that could cause him to get hurt or even tired. He wants to go exploring. So he does. He wakes up early in the morning, sneaks off on his bicycle, and meets an elderly neighbour, Pearl, and her old cow, Blossom. They become friends and life changes for Toby.This story is about growing up, about learning to think for yourself without thinking only about yourself. 

The reading level of this book is not difficult. There are only 117 pages and the lines on each page are spaced far enough apart to be easy on the eyes. But there is a lot to ponder in this story. So don’t read it when you are in the mood for a quickly-paced humorous story. Read it when you have the time to slow down and consider this question: What is the meaning of life?

Ms. R.

More stories of thinking for yourself

More stories set in rural areas

More stories of summer vacations

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!