“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” – Marie Curie

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, his friends arrive and rambunctiously  interrupt him. Finally, he blows up. What will happen now? This mostly wordless summer story will be appreciated by young readers looking for some peace and quiet of their own. [Books and reading; Solitude; Summer]

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Christopher, Lucy. Flyaway. New York:  Chicken House, 2011.
Thirteen-year-old Isla meets Harry in the hospital where her father is a patient. Harry is battling a terminal illness, but he shares Isla’s love of the outdoors and the two conspire to save a struggling swan. This quietly hopeful story is reminiscent of the classic by Paul Gallico: The Snow Goose. It might also be compared to the more modern Ida B. by Katherine Hannigan. [England; Family life; Swans; Wildlife rescue; Fathers and daughters; Hospitals; Friendship] 

Colfer, Eoin. Imaginary Fred. New York: Harper, 2015.
Loneliness is awful. An imaginary friend might help. But what if a real friend come along? What will happen to the imaginary friend? How will he feel?
This delightful picture book by an absolutely brilliant team – Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers – is pure joy. The fanciful story and whimsical illustrations will bring laughter to readers of all ages. Recommended for ages 5 and up. [Friendship; Imagination]

DiCamillo, Kate. Raymie Nightingale. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2016.

“Hoping that if she wins a local beauty pageant her father will come home, Raymie practices twirling a baton and performing good deeds as she is drawn into an unlikely friendship with a drama queen and a saboteur.” – FVRL. Highly recommended for readers 10 to 14-years-old. 

French, Simon. My Brother’s Keeper. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2014, c2012.
Eleven-year-old Kieran tries to be one of the popular kids at school, one of the powerful kids.  But what will he do when his cousin arrives in town? His cousin Bon isn’t athletic. He definitely isn’t outgoing or confident. Instead, his cousin is soon the target of those powerful boys who like to bully everyone else. Life becomes even more confusing for Kieran when the girl he admires becomes friends with Bon. It becomes more complicated when he discovers the reason Bon has come to live in his home. This well-written memorable novel from Australia is recommended for readers 10 to 14 years old.  [Australia; Bullying; Conduct of life; Cousins; Imagination; Individuality; Jealousy; Moving (Household); Parent and child; Schools]

Gigot, Jami. Starboy: Inspired by the Life and Lyrics of David Bowie. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2021.
A young boy, misunderstood and lonely, learns to listen to the music in his mind and dance with exuberant joy. A thought-provoking picture book that will encourage self-expression in readers six to eleven years old. Includes an afterword with facts about the life of David Bowie.

Graff, Lisa. A Tangle of Knots. New York : Philomel Books, 2013.
“Destiny leads 11-year-old Cady to a peanut butter factory, a family of children searching for their own Talents, and a Talent Thief who will alter her life forever.” – CIP  A magical novel for imaginative readers who might also enjoy Close to Famous by Joan Bauer and Plain Kate by Erin Bow. [Baking; Family Life; Individuality; Magic; Moving (Household); New York (State); Orphans]

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? [Cancer; Country life; Cows; Death; Friendship; Hope; Poets; Vacations]

Knight, Mary. Saving Wonder. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016.
Twelve-year-old Curley Hines lives in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. Most of his relatives have died, his father in a coal mining accident and his mother and younger brother in a mud slide caused by the mine. So now he lives with his grandfather who – every week – gives him a new word to learn: 26 letters x 2 = 52 weeks and 52 new words every year.
Right from the first sentence, this debut novel is full of the joy of life: love, hope, and determination. And the power of words! Which is exactly what Curley needs to use when the mine announces their plans to blow the top of Red Hawk Mountain. Coal is needed and a new mine manager is resolute in his decision to expand operations. Curley and his best friend Jules – with the help with her new boyfriend, the mine manager’s son –  get together to oppose the destruction of their beloved home.
Each chapter in the story emphasizes one of Curley’s words and ends with a definition. The humour in the format is delightful and never feels overbearing or didactic, probably because of Curley’s spunk and his grandfather’s loving wisdom. This novel is highly recommended for readers 10 to 14 years old. [Appalachain Region; Coal mines and mining; Environmentalism; Friendship; Grandfathers; Kentucky; Orphans] 

Kreller, Susan. You Can’t See Elephants. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015.
Two children are beaten by their parents and no one does anything about it. No one in the neighbourhood says a word. Except 13-year-old Mascha. Sent to live with her grandparents for the summer, she befriends Julia and Max. And courageously tries to rescue them.
This insightful award-winning novel – translated from the German by Elizabeth Gaffney – will appeal to thoughtful readers 11 years old and up. [Brothers and sisters; Child abuse; Germany; Grandparents; Parent and child]


Law, Ingrid. Savvy. New York : Dial Books for Young Readers, 2008.
“Recounts the adventures of Mibs Beaumont, whose thirteenth birthday has revealed her “savvy” – a magical power unique to each member of her family – just as her father is injured in a terrible accident.” – CIP A unique and humorous novel for imaginative readers 11 years old and up. A Newbery Honor Book. [Brothers and sisters; Family life; Individuality; Magic; Voyages and travels]


Law, Ingrid. Scumble. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2010.
“Mib’s cousin Ledge is disappointed to discover that his ‘savvy’ – the magical power unique to each member of their family – is to make things fall apart, which endangers his uncle Autry’s ranch and reveals the family secret to future reporter Sarah.” – CIP Another humorous novel recommended for readers 11 years old and up. [Cousins; Friendship; Individuality; Magic; Ranch life; Reporters; Secrets; Wyoming] 

Lisle, Janet Taylor. Quicksand Pond. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017.
Twelve-year-old Jessie makes a new friend and discovers a decades-old mystery when she spends the summer with her family in a ramshackle Rhode Island saltbox. This 240-page novel by a skillful novelist is recommended for readers – 11 to 15 years old – who enjoy stories of friendship, secrets, and betrayal. [Family life; Friendship; Murder; Secrets; Trust; Summer; Vacations]

A Snicker of Magic

Lloyd, Natalie. A Snicker of Magic. New York: Scholastic Press, 2014.
“The Pickles are new to Midnight Gulch, Tennessee, a town which legend says was once magic –but Felicity is convinced the magic is still there, and with the help of  her new friend Jonah the Beedle she hopes to bring the magic back.” – CIP. A wonderfully exuberant and uplifting novel for readers 11 years old and up. One of the best books I’ve read in the last year. [Family life; Friendship; Mothers and daughters; Single-parent families; Tennessee]

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MacLachlan, Patricia. The Truth of Me: About a Boy, His Grandmother, and a Very Good Dog. New York, NY : Katherine Tegen Books, 2013.
“Robbie and his dog, Ellie, spend the summer at his grandmother Maddy’s house, where Robbie learns many things about his emotionally distant parents and himself.” – CIP. Recommended for readers 9 to 13 years old. [Dogs; Grandmothers; Individuality; Parent and child; Summer]


A Mango-Shaped Space

Mass, Wendy. A Mango-Shaped Space. New York: Little, Brown, 2005, c2003.

“Afraid that she is crazy, thirteen-year-old Mia, who sees a special color with every letter, number, and sound, keeps this a secret until she becomes overwhelmed by school, changing relationships, and the death of her beloved cat, Mango.” – CIP. [Cats; Death; Family life; Friendship; Schools; Synesthesia] 

McDonnell, Patrick. Shine! New York: Megan Tingley Books/Little, Brown and Company, 2017.
“I wish I were…” Somewhere else. Someone else. Something else. Little Hoshi wishes and wishes she were not a humble little sea star in the ocean. Until she learns, of course, that happiness is to be found right where we are and possibilities always surround us. This delightful picture book – illustrated by Naoko Stoop – is another heart-warming and inspiring story by the creator of the Mutts comic strips. Highly recommended as a read-aloud – for listeners 4 years old and up – and for anyone who needs a humorous reminder that we all can shine. [Happiness; Sea stars; Oceans]

Metzger, Cécile. The Invisible Bear. Toronto: Tundra, 2020.
Alone. Unseen. Invisible. A quiet solitary existence. That is Bear’s life until Madame Odette moves next door. Suddenly, there is colour and sound and – slowly – friendship. This softly illustrated picture book – originally published in French – will speak to readers of all ages, especially this year. Who are the people who have brightened our lives during Covid-19 lockdowns, during days and months of isolation? What friendships have changed our lives?

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) is the story of August, a boy born with extreme facial abnormalities who was not expected to survive infancy. Life changes for 11-year-old Auggie when his parents stop homeschooling him and put him into a public school where he endures taunting and bullying. Now he must figure out how to be accepted. Will the bullying ever stop? Will he ever be accepted? Read this inspiring novel to find out! (by Rabia in grade 6)

Raczka, Bob. You are a Story. New York: Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, 2023.
You are a person. A friend. An animal. A body of water. A space traveller. A miracle… This inspiring picture book – illustrated by Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell – encourages readers to see themselves as a project under construction. How will they participate in the life of our incredible universe? Highly recommended for children five to eleven years old. Ideal as a read-aloud as every page is the start of a conversation about what it means to be a human being.

Reynolds, Beter H. Be You! New York: Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., 2020.
An upbeat and encouraging story by a master storyteller. The illustrations, the font, the design of each page all contribute to create a picture book for readers of all ages. A perfect companion to Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! 

Just in Case

Rosoff, Meg. Just in Case. New York : Plume, 2008.

“Convinced that fate is out to get him, fifteen-year-old David Case assumes a new identity in the hope of avoiding what he believes is certain doom.” – CIP. Full of teenage angst, this sympathetic yet humorous novel by a master storyteller is sure to appeal to readers 14-years-old and up. [England] 

Stevens, April. The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2018.
Figrotten loves nature. And she loves spending time outdoors on a big rock on a hill behind her house. She feels safe up there. Like she can truly be herself when she is there alone. But over the course of her eleventh year, she starts to see life differently. Maybe she can find friends at school, after all. Maybe her sister doesn’t hate her, after all. Maybe she can find a balance between being along and being with people.
This 196-page novel is beautifully written. Like poetry in prose. Highly recommended for thoughtful readers 10 to 13 years old.

On the Night You Were Born

Tillman, Nancy. On The Night You Were Born. New York : Feiwel & Friends, 2006.

Wolitzer, Meg. The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman. New York: Puffin Books, 2011.
Three twelve-year-olds – Duncan April and Nate – find their lives unexpectedly changing at a highly competitive national Scrabble Tournament. [Individuality; Scrabble (Game); Florida; Contests; Parent and child; Cheating]

Yang, James. A Boy Named Isamu. New York, New York: Viking, 2021.
Do you enjoy observing the world around you? Do you like wondering about what you see? Are you ever alone but not lonely because you are busy thinking? Isamu is a boy whose imagination can fill an entire day in this elegant picture book inspired by the life of the artist Isamu Noguchi. Photographs and an author’s note at the end tell more about the Japanese American sculptor and landscape designer born in 1904. Recommended for children who are full of their own questions about the world. 

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