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. 

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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

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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!

A story of friendship

McCully, Emily Arnold. Clara: The (Mostly) True Story of the Rhinoceros Who Dazzled Kings, Inspired Artists, and Won the Hearts of Everyone…While She Ate Her Way Up and Down a Continent. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2016.
If Emily McCully writes and illustrates a book, pick it up. Everything she creates is good. And this almost-true biography is no exception. Clara – an orphaned rhinoceros – was adopted by a sea captain in 1741. The two of them travelled throughout Europe for 17 years, amazing audiences and becoming fast friends. While now we would never dream of exhibiting an animal in such a manner, this story of affectionate friendship between a person and an animal is nonetheless intriguingly heart-warming. Included is a map of Clara’s journeys and an author’s note with further information. Highly recommended for curious readers of all ages. 

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True stories of animal intelligence

Let’s go on an adventure…

Sis, Peter. Robinson. New York: Scholastic Press, 2017.
A softly beautiful picture book combining memories from the author’s childhood with the story of Robinson Crusoe. The softly detailed illustrations, complemented by the capital-letters font, will enchant readers 7 to 14 years old. Highly recommended!

Picture book memoirs

Stories of adventure

Write about your own memories

“When you have little children, you want to tell them about joy and happiness and hope. And then comes the time you want to tell them there are tough moments. I admire people who can do that.” Peter Sis 

Note: All of Peter Sis’s books are memorable. Here are some of my favourites:

  

“People think children’s books are about teddy bears and little flowers. I realize people sometimes don’t know what to do with my books because they say, ‘Is it a children’s book, and what age group?'” Peter Sis