Nowhere Boy

Marsh, Katherine. Nowhere Boy. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2018.

Thirteen-year-old Max is not happy when his family moves from Washington, D.C. to Brussels, Belgium for a year. He is even less pleased when he has to attend a local school with instruction all in French. Worse yet, he has to repeat the sixth grade. But life changes when Max discovers a fourteen-year-old refugee, Ahmed, hiding in the basement. Told from alternating points-of-view, this 362-page suspenseful novel – set in the days following the 2016 Paris bombings – provides a heart-rending yet hopeful picture of life for survivors of war. Highly recommended for readers 11 years old and up. 

Learn the true history behind this fascinating novel!

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Writing about ‘Because of Winn-Dixie’

DiCamillo, Kate. Because of Winn-Dixie. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2009, c2000.

Students write essays after reading aloud together in class…

“‘There ain’t no way you can hold on to something that wants to go, you understand? You can only love what you got while you got it.’” (159). Gloria Dump tells this to India Opal, a ten-year-old girl, when she does not want to give up looking for her beloved dog, Winn-Dixie. Opal has faced many losses; she has lost her mama, and at the beginning of the book, she moves to Naomi, so she has no friends. But then, she finds a stray dog in a Winn-Dixie grocery store. She adopts it to save it from the pound and names it Winn-Dixie. She loves that dog, but then a storm comes. Winn-Dixie has a pathological fear of storms, so he gets scared and runs away. Opal keeps looking for him because she loves him, and cannot bear to lose him, like she lost her mama. Winn-Dixie is her only true friend. He has changed Opal’s life: he has made Opal’s relationship with her father stronger, taught her to be kinder, and also taught her how to make friends. She loves Winn-Dixie with all her heart, so she keeps looking for him. 

However, when her father says to go back, she says she wants to keep looking for Winn-Dixie because she realizes something about her own life: she realizes that she has already lost so much, that she cannot bear to lose anything else. But at the same time, she realizes that she cannot make anything or anyone stay, no matter what. She realizes that no matter how hard she tries, she cannot make Winn-Dixie stay if he doesn’t want to. Opal also realizes that no matter how painful it might be, no matter how hard she tries, no matter how much she cries and yells and whines, her mama will not be coming back (177). Ever. Most importantly, she realizes that she can love people – or dogs – but she cannot make them stay forever.

Most of the characters in this novel have faced losses, which is why this sentence by Gloria Dump is   important. Opal has lost her mom, Opal’s Dad has lost his wife, Gloria Dump has lost her eyesight, and Amanda has lost her five-year-old brother, Carson. All of them know that they will not be getting those people or things back because they know that they can’t make anything or anyone stay. Opal copes with losing her mom by remembering her and by loving other people in her life. Opal’s Dad copes with his wife leaving by realizing that she left him something before she went away, his daughter. Gloria Dump copes with losing her eyesight by looking forward to Opal coming and talking with her. Amanda copes by still loving her brother and thinking about him.

Other novels also portray the truth of Gloria Dump’s statement: “‘You can’t hold on to something that wants to go, you understand? You can only love what you got while you got it”’. In the book Words on Fire by Jennifer A. Nielsen, Audra loses her parents but knows that she can still love them even though she cannot make her parents come back. She copes by knowing someday the world will be better. In Loot by Jude Watson, March loses his dad but still loves him, even though he knows that his dad will never return. He copes by knowing that his dad also loves him. In another novel by Jennifer A. Nielsen, Resistance, Chaya loses her sister but still loves her even though she will never see her again. Chaya copes by knowing that she could not do anything to make her sister stay; she copes by knowing it was not her fault and that her sister loves her.    – Gurmuskaan in grade six 

‘’ ‘…you can’t hold on to something that wants to go….You can only love what you got while you got it’ ’’ (159). Gloria Dump says this to the main character, India Opal Buloni, when she does not want to give up searching for her disoriented dog, Winn-Dixie who has run away because he has a pathological fear of thunderstorms, which means ‘’ ‘ a fear that goes way beyond normal fear. It’s a fear you can’t be talked out of or reasoned out of’ ’’ (75). 

Opal is a 10-year-old, not well-educated girl who has just moved to Naomi, Florida with her father, a busy preacher. She feels very lonely because she has no one to spend time with. She adopts an ugly, big, disoriented dog, and names it after the store she found him in, Winn-Dixie. After that, she learns what true friendship means- friendship for most people is a combination of affection, loyalty, love, respect, and trust. Friendship goes beyond just sharing time, and it is long-lasting. Opal makes new friends, Miss Franny- a librarian-, Gloria Dump- an old woman-, Otis- a quiet man who offers a job to Opal, Sweetie Pie Thomas-, an outgoing 5-year-old who loves dogs-, Amanda Wilkinson- a 10-year-old pinched face girl whose brother drowned when he was 5-years-old; all thanks to Winn-Dixie for taking all the loneliness out of Opal’s life. 

Opal realizes what Gloria Dump is saying is reality. She has to accept the truth that her mama will not return. So she goes up to Gloria Dump’s mistake tree and says, ‘’ ‘Mama’ as if her mama was standing right beside her, ‘I know ten things about you, and that’s not enough…. But daddy is going to tell me more… he knows you’re not coming back. He misses you and I miss you, but my heart doesn’t feel empty anymore…. I’ll still think about you, I promise. But probably not as much as I did this summer’ ’’ (177-178).

In other books, this truth about letting go is also shown. For instance, in Cinnamon Moon a twelve-year-old, Ailis, and her younger brother, Quinn, survive, but their family does not. Ailis and Quinn are taken by a family acquaintance to live in a boarding house in Chicago. They both know that their parents won’t be returning, so they let go of their sadness and love what they now have- a sweet six-year-old named Nettie, who is also an orphan displaced by Chicago’s fire.

In my own life, there has been a loss. My parents had to leave their loved ones back in India, Asia. For example, my dad had to leave his affectionate grandma, and her stories; he tells me about how they used to play games and do all types of leisure activities together. I still sometimes hear him saying, ‘‘I miss her so much’’ and ‘‘I want to go visit her.’’ But he can’t go because of Covid-19. So the sentence ‘‘ ‘…you can’t hold on to anything that wants to go…. You can only love what you got while you got it’ ’’ is also true for me and my family. – Sunmeet in grade six

‘ There ain’t no way you can hold on to something that wants to go, you understand? You can only love what you have while you got it (159). Gloria Dump – the wise character in the novel – says this to ten-year-old Opal – the main character – when she does not want to stop searching for her dog, Winn-Dixie. Winn-Dixie has a pathological fear of thunderstorms, and Opal is having a small party outside with her friends when the sky starts to get very dark and gloomy. Only a second later, it starts raining; there is lightning flashing in the sky and thunder roaring in the distance. Opal and all of her friends dash into Gloria’s house to stay dry (154). As soon as Opal starts to get settled into Gloria’s warm and dry home, she realizes that Winn-Dixie is nowhere to be found. Everyone starts searching, but no one can find him (157). Opal and her father go outside to search for Winn-Dixie but still, there is no sign of him. Opal is calling and searching for what seems like forever. She does not want to give up, because she has already lost her mother and does not want to lose anyone else.

The main character, Opal, realizes something about her own life. She realizes that she should focus on what she has now and not what she does not have. For example, she realizes she should stop being sad about her mother and should be happy about all the new friends she has made. She finally accepts the fact that her mom will never come back. 

In real life, this sentence – by Gloria Dump – is also true. The first half of this sentence – “There ain’t no way you can hold on to something that wants to go” relates to real life: if you love someone who does not love you, you cannot make them stay. The second half of this sentence is also true:  “You can only love what you have while you got it.” No matter how much you love someone, they will have to leave this world eventually. – Agam in grade six

  “…You can only love what you’ve got while you’ve got it”(167). Gloria Dump says this when India Opal – the protagonist,  who lives in Naomi, Florida –  wants to find her precious  lost dog -Winn-Dixie- who is lost because of a pathological fear of thunderstorms, which are frequent during Florida’s warm summers.

     Opal says “I am not ready to let Winn-Dixie go” (167). She is thinking about her mother, and how she let her when she was a very young girl. Then she thinks about the preacher and how he feels about losing his wife and her mother. Finally, she thinks about Winn-Dixie and how he must have felt for being alone for so long with no one to take care of him during his darkest days and nights.

     In real life, this relates to me as well. I was not ready to lose my Grandpa when I was six. Then I thought about my dad, who must have felt like his world had just shattered into pieces, because his father meant everything in the entire world to him. My Grandpa helped my father come to Canada, helped my father pay for most of the expenses, helped my father study when he was in school, taught him how to show manners and respect to others, taught him how to cook his own meals, supported him when he won medals and games. As a result, my father became an honorable, brave and humble young man. – Gurtaj in grade six

Read more sentences – found in novels – that are true to life.

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Counting on Katherine

Becker, Helaine. Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2018.

Katherine was a child who loved numbers. But in the 1920s and ’30s, girls did not grow up to become mathematicians. So Katherine became a school teacher. Until in the 1950s, she finally got a chance to work for America’s National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics. For 35 years, her calculations of flight-paths helped to safely send astronauts around the world, to the moon, and back again to Earth. She died on February 24, 2020 at 101 years of age. This picture book illustrated by Dow Phumiruk is highly recommended for curious readers 9 years old and up.

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Pine Island Home

Horvath, Polly. Pine Island Home. Toronto: Puffin Canada, 2020.
Feeling fatigued by the constraints imposed by this pandemic? Feeling irritable about life in general? Read a novel by Polly Horvath. She has an extraordinary ability to use life’s craziness to make us laugh. This latest novel is no exception. Four sisters are orphaned in Borneo when their missionary parents are washed away by a tsunami. Unfortunately, their great-aunt – who had volunteered to take them in – dies before they arrive. Now what will they do? Where will they go? The four girls decide to settle into their aunt’s rural home on an island off the coast of British Columbia and pretend that a grumpy neighbour is their legal guardian. Will their scheme work? Well, all ends happily but not before all sorts of crazy complications surprise everyone. This highly recommended novel will be enjoyed by readers 10 to 13 years old.

More novels set in British Columbia

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Siberian Huskies

Klukow, Ellen, Mary. Siberian Huskies. Mankato: Amicus, 2020.

I will remember Siberian huskies! Firstly, I will remember that they can have mismatched eyes. Secondly, I will remember that they stay the happiest with people or other dogs. They are social dogs. They love their families. Thirdly, I will remember that they don’t just look like wolves, but they also howl like wolves. Most dogs bark, but instead of barking, huskies howl. Their howls are very loud. And that is the reason they are considered vocal dogs! Fourthly, I will remember that mother huskies can have four to six puppies in a litter. All husky puppies are born with their markings; they learn howling from their mother. Fifthly, I will remember that they are considered to be escape artists. They are good at escaping from almost anywhere. They can be dig under fences. They can jump over fences. They are strong! One cool husky even ate through concrete to escape: what? Sixth – and most importantly – I will remember that in 1925, huskies saved the town of Nome, Alaska. People were dying of diphtheria, a disease that gives people a fever and a sore throat. Sled dogs brought them medicine that no one else could provide; those Siberian huskies saved 10, 000 people: that’s a lot! – Sunmeet in grade 6

Read more books about animals!

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Rights and Freedoms

Protecting Rights in Canada. Calgary: Weigl Educational Publishers, 2010.

Freedom In Canada

“There are many rights and freedoms in Canada, but the most important right is freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression. All other rights cannot be enjoyed if we do not have this basic freedom. Freedom to peacefully assemble, for instance, comes under freedom of thought and expression. Freedom to speak English or French in all federal institutions is a part of freedom of opinion and expression. Freedom of conscience and religion is a part of freedom of belief and expression. Freedom to petition the government is also a part of freedom of expression. Freedom to participate in fair elections is only possible if people have freedom of opinion and expression. If we did not have freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, then we would not be allowed to think for ourselves. For example, in Stalinist Russia, the people didn’t have this freedom; therefore they were forced to say that they liked the government. In China, nowadays, people are also forced to say that they like the government because they don’t have freedom of opinion. 

“However, there are limits to our freedom in Canada. Firstly, nobody is allowed to injure others, including animals. Nobody is allowed to hit somebody or call them names because they feel angry, even though that could be considered as freedom of expression. Nobody is allowed to hurt others mentally or physically, saying that they are using their freedom of belief, opinion, and expression. Secondly, nobody is allowed to endanger others, including animals, because of their actions. For example, nobody is allowed to carry guns, without a permit, because that could endanger other people’s safety. These two limitations – not injuring and not endangering others – justly restrict our rights in Canada and should be respected. Freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression is important because without this fundamental right, we would not be living in a democratic society today.” – Gurmuskaan, grade six   

Read more work by students in grade six

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Last of the Name

Parry, Rosanne. Last of the Name. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 2019.
After surviving a horrific voyage, twelve-year-old Danny and his older sister Kathleen arrive in New York City. But the prejudice against Irish Catholics is as bad in America as it was in Ireland. Determined to stay together, the siblings find work as house maids. But they can only stay as long as Danny can keep pretending to be a girl.  This novel – set in 1863 and based on historical facts – is highly recommended for competent readers 11 years old and up.

More stories set in New York City

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More novels by Roseanne Parry:
A Wolf Called Wander
Written in Stone

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