On the Side of Angels

Kusugak, Jose Amaujaq. On the Side of the Angels. Iqaluit, Nunavut: Inhabit Education Books Inc., 2020.
How do you explain life to yourself when you are suddenly – and inexplicably – thrust into a foreign culture? How do you make sense of all the changes?
Jose Kusugak – in this nonfiction narrative – tells the story of his childhood. A carefree Arctic life playing games with siblings and trying to figure out the strange stories told by the Catholic Church. A confusing life in residential school where horrors mixed with happy events. This straight-forward account is unique in showing – in straightforward language – a child’s view while simultaneously providing an adult’s perspective.
While catalogued as a children’s book, some of the references might be too graphic for young readers. Some of the references to Bible stories might be puzzling to readers unacquainted with Christianity. Nevertheless, at only 54 pages in length and printed in a relatively large font, this matter-of-fact and even occasionally humorous autobiography is highly recommended for discriminating readers eleven years old and up.

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Stolen Words

Florence, Melanie. Stolen Words. Toronto: Second Story Press, 2017.
What did you call your grandfather when you were very young? Grandpa? Opa? Papi? Baba? How does hearing the words of your early childhood affect your memories? Your emotions?
A little girl asks her grandfather what to call him in Cree. He doesn’t know. He was sent to residential school when he was young and his language was taken away from him. So she goes to her school library and comes home with a book: Introduction to Cree. Together, they learn the language of their culture. This gently powerful picture book – illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard – is highly recommended for readers of all ages.   

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Dr. Fauci

Messner, Kate. Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021.
A straight-forward picture book biography – with extensive additional information, including information on how vaccines are developed, a reading list, a timeline, and numerous photographs – for curious readers 6 to 11 years old. Useful for classroom discussions and as a springboard to research. Recommended for its timeliness.

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Erika-san

Say, Allen. Erika-san. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2008.
A little girl, seeing a picture of a teahouse in her grandmother’s home, becomes curious about Japan. She reads books about Japan, learns how to speak Japanese, and – after she grows up and finishes college – moves to Japan to become a schoolteacher. But busy Tokyo doesn’t appeal to her. She longs for the countryside. She finally finds it, a little village that reminds her of the picture from long ago, a place where she makes a friend, marries him, and creates her new home.
Some reviewers have criticized this picture book for depicting a character that dislikes a foreign city, for writing about a character appropriating another culture as her own. But this quietly beautiful picture book isn’t about displaying political correctness or conveying moral messages. It is a story about someone who admires a way of life and goes out to find it. It is a story for everyone who has had a dream and then set out to find it. Recommended for reflective readers 9 to 12 years old. 

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Prairie Days

MacLachlan, Patricia. Prairie Days. New York, Toronto: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020.
Any story by Patricia MacLachlan is worth reading. Any book by Margaret K. McElderry is worth looking at. And this picture book illustrated with collages by Micha Archer is no exception. Written from the first-person point of view, it is a wonderfully exuberant celebration of long-ago summers on the American prairies. An excellent read-aloud for family gatherings, sure to start more stories of long ago memories. Highly recommended for everyone who loves country life.

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P.S. A little clue to MacLachlan’s brilliance: When she talks about the farm horses – Lyddie, Blue, and Joe – she doesn’t say ‘that’ we used to ride. She uses the pronoun ‘who’ instead. Because those horses aren’t objects. They are alive. They are loved.

Just Like That

Summer holidays are coming to an end and a new term is about to begin. Get ready by reading a historical novel set in a boarding school. 

Schmidt, Gary D. Just Like That. Boston: Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021.
Meryl Lee is sent to a posh boarding school in Maine where wealthy students are clearly considered superior. Unfortunately, she is not wealthy. Meanwhile, Matt has run away – with a pillowcase full of money – from a criminal gang and is hiding in a seaside shack. The two teenagers meet and begin a fragile friendship. Set in 1968 during the Vietnam war, this young adult novel addresses political issues, religious beliefs, and social justice. Highly recommended for readers 12 years old and up. (P.S. All stories written by award-winning Gary D. Schmidt are worth reading.)

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Almost Time

Schmidt, Gary D. Almost Time. Boston : Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020.
A lovely picture book about a little boy waiting for the weather to get cold enough to tap the maple trees for syrup. Full-page illustrations by the award winning illustrator G. Brian Karas accompany a simple story told by an award-winning author and his late wife, Elizabeth Stickney. Highly recommended for readers 5 to 8 years old who have experienced the frustrations of waiting. 

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