Labors of Hercules Beal

Schmidt, Gary D. The Labors of Hercules Beal. New York: Clarion Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2023.
Hercules’s seventh grade teacher has assigned a ridiculous project: replicate in real life the twelve labours of the mythical Hercules. This could be a silly spoof of story. But the author is the award-winning Gary Schmidt, so you can be assured that while full of outrageous antics, this well-crafted novel is not light-weight entertainment. While completing his project, Hercules discovers that despite his parents’ death, he is not actually alone and unwanted in this world. Recommended without reservations for readers 11 to 14 years old. 

More stories of grief

More stories by Gary Schmidt

More stories set in Massachusetts

More stories for seventh graders

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Town is by the Sea

Schwartz, Joanne. Town is by the Sea. Toronto: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2017.
A young boy wakes in the morning to hear seagulls calling, a dog barking, and a car going along the road. Meanwhile, his father is working far underground. He plays outside in the sunshine with a friend and looks out at the sparkling sea. Meanwhile, his father is working far underground. He goes to the grocery store for his mother and to the graveyard to visit his grandfather. Meanwhile, his father… The sensory details in the rhythmic text and the silent information provided by Sydney Smith’s ink and water-colour illustrations together tell a quiet story of life in a coal mining town. Both the author and illustrator grew up in Nova Scotia. Together, they have created an incredible picture book for readers of any age. If you admire excellence in children’s books, don’t just borrow this book from a library. Buy it!

More historical fiction

More books by Canadians

More books about coal mining

More books by Sydney Smith

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A Year of Borrowed Men

Barker, Michelle. A Year of Borrowed Men. Toronto: Pajama Press, 2015.
Another brilliantly written story by the award-winning Michelle Barker. Set in World War 2 and based on her mother’s childhood, this picture book tells the story of three French prisoners of war sent to help on a farm in Germany. Despite the dangers from spying neighbours and stern policemen, the family treats the prisoners with care and kindness until the end of the war. Told from the point of view of a seven-year-old girl, there are bits of ironic humour that only older readers will notice: the village police officer is known for having become someone to fear; the invading Russians open all the barn doors and set even the animals free, leaving the family without any cows for milk and butter. The flowing language, the font of the text, and the design of the pages combine to create a story ideal for reading aloud. Tenderly illustrated in water colour and coloured pencils by the award-winning artist Renné Benoit and supplemented by an afterword and five black-and-white photographs, this picture book is highly recommended for readers 7 years old and up.

More stories from an author’s own life

More stories of World War 2

More stories set in Germany

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

My Long List of Impossible Things

Barker, Michelle. My Long List of Impossible Things. Toronto: Annick Press, 2020.
The second world war is ending in Germany, but that does not mean safety for Katja’s family. The Soviets are invading. Katja’s father has already been long gone, killed in the war, so Katya, her older sister Hilde, and their mother are on their own, travelling by foot through forests and along dangerous roads, seeking refuge farther west.
Told from the first person point of view of Katya, a teenager who tends to speak impulsively and frequently unwisely, this extraordinary story provides a glimpse of life after the war. All the complexities, all the dangers, are vividly portrayed by an award-winning Canadian writer. Due to some of the language and some of the scenes, this novel is most suitable for readers 13 years of age and older. Highly recommended for adult readers, as well as teenagers.

Teachers: this is an excellent novel for analyzing character development. It would also be greatly enjoyed as a small group novel as it would be sure to provoke discussion.

More stories of World War 2 

More stories set in Germany 

More stories of runaways

More novels for young adults

More books by Canadians

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Arthur Who Wrote Sherlock

Bailey, Linda. Arthur Who Wrote Sherlock. Toronto: Tundra, 2022.
Everyone knows the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. But who is Arthur Conan Doyle? A quiet man who lives alone and stays indoors writing stories? No. Definitely not. Arthur Doyle loves sports – all sports – and is a superb storyteller. When he completes his schooling, he travels the world as a ship’s medical officer before coming back to Scotland to open his own practice. While he waits for patients to arrive, he writes stories, all of which are rejected by publishers. No one wants them. Until he writes about a detective, and Sherlock Holmes is born! (Arthur also marries twice, has five children, does more travelling, and does all he can to make sure people are not mistreated.) This biography – written in present tense – is a delight to read! It flows beautifully: perfect for reading aloud to younger students, excellent for teaching style to older students. And the liveliness of the writing and the humour of the illustrations (by Isabelle Follath) make it fun for any age. Outstanding!

More biographies of writers 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Just Like Beverly

Conrad, Vicki. Just Like Beverly. Seattle, Washington: Little Bigfoot, an imprint of Sasquatch Books, 2019.
Runaway Ralph. Ramona the Pest. Henry and Ribsy. Most readers know these characters so well that they almost seem like real people in our memories. But who was their creator? Who was Beverly Cleary? A little farm girl who didn’t like reading and wasn’t good at it until her second grade teacher kindly helped her learn. Then her mother gave her a book with characters who were funny and had adventures, who reminded her of her own life, and she finally discovered the joy of reading. But how did she become a writer? This picture book biography – appended with six pages of additional information and a timeline – is cheerfully recommended for everyone who has enjoyed Cleary’s wonderful classics of children’s literature.

More biographies of writers

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A Life Electric

Westergaard, Azadeh. A Life Electric: The Story of Nikola Tesla. New York: Viking, 2021.
When people think of a Tesla, they think of a car that is very expensive. But who was the real Tesla? Was he wealthy?
Born in 1856 in a small village high in the mountains of what is now Croatia, young Nikola loved animals and books and coming up with inventions. When he was twenty-six, he he had a new idea: a motor that could send electric currents forward and backward along a wire. We now know that as alternating current and Nikola Tesla was the person who invented the AC induction motor. But even though he moved to America and patented many electrical inventions, he never became wealthy. Why? This picture book biography – with extensive additional information and a bibliography – provides the answer. It tells the story of a man with an incredible mind who became known for his kindness towards all living creatures. Highly recommended for readers 7 years old and up.

More books to expand your general knowledge

More biographies

Print Friendly, PDF & Email