The Bicycle Spy

McDonough, Yona Zeldis. The Bicycle Spy. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016.
Twelve-year-old Marcel – riding his bicycle and dreaming of racing in the Tour de France – discovers that he is delivering more than bread from his family’s bakery. He is delivering secret messages that must be kept hidden from the German soldiers who have invaded France. Set in 1942, this suspenseful novel – with widely spaced lines and relatively large print – will appeal to readers 10 years old and up. 

More stories of World War 2 

More stories set in France

Birdsong

Flett, Julie. Birdsong. Vancouver, BC: Greystone Kids/Greystone Books, 2019.
A young Cree girl moves to the countryside where she makes a new friend, an elderly woman who shares her love of art. Passing through the seasons of the year, this wistful picture book is filled with quiet love. It can take its place along with Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney as a story for readers who appreciate the power of creativity.

More books about the power of art

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” – Leonardo da Vinci

More indigenous stories

“One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

More Canadian writers

“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” – Vincent Van Gogh

Dream Within a Dream

MacLachlan, Patricia. Dream Within a Dream. New York, Toronto: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2019.
Many of Patricia MacLachlan’s novels are about children in some way abandoned by their parents. In My Father’s World, a Fiona and Finn grieve the death of their father.  In Arthur, For the Very First Time, Arthur is sent to live with his aunt and uncle for the summer. In Dream Within a Dream, Louisiana and her younger brother Theo are left with their grandparents on a small island while their parents travel around the world studying birds. In each case, the characters learn to see life from different perspectives. They learn more about themselves and their own talents. And they become stronger and more courageous. This pattern could become tiresomely repetitious, but the vivid writing and unique characters make each novel a new delight. Happily recommended for readers 9 to 12 years old. 

What makes Patricia MacLachlan’s novels such a pleasure for so many students?  Lots of conversation. Heartwarming relationships. Courage in the face of adversity. Short sentences and paragraphs. Big print and wide margins. 

The Good Thieves

Rundell, Katherine. The Good Thieves. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019.

After Vita’s grandfather is swindled out of his home, she and her mother sail to New York City to take him back to England. But once they arrive, Vita comes up with a new plan: to reclaim the family mansion. With the help of newfound friends – two circus performers and a reluctant pickpocket – she sets out to accomplish her mission. Katherine Rundell accomplishes her usual magic with this latest novel set in the 1920s. Mixing the sadly all-too-real and the impossibly-foolhardy-and-unrealistic, she once again tells a rollicking tale of adventure which will inspire readers 10 to 14 years of age. Highly recommended!

More stories set in the past 

More stories set in New York City

More stories of adventure

Note to teachers: Katherine Rundell’s novels are so well-written that you might like to use one as a class novel. Characterization and setting are always vivid. Plots move quickly. There are numerous sentences that reveal complex themes. And the style of writing is so brilliant that it dances across the pages. 

Three Rancheros: a series by Kate DiCamillo

Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2019

The third in a trilogy about three friends, Beverly, Right Here tells the story of fourteen-year-old Beverly who runs away from home and gets a job in a neighbouring town.

Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2016

The first in the series was Raymie Nightingale, about a girl who misses her father, who hopes if only she can win a beauty contest, he will come home.

Somerville, Massachusetts : Candlewick Press, 2018

The second story was Louisiana’s Way Home in which the main character’s grandmother wakes her in the middle of the night to tell her they’re leaving town right now and never coming back.

Three elegantly written novels, set in Florida, with a consistent theme:
Life is not always the way it should be. Your parents may not have enough energy or interest to properly care for you. The people you depend on may not always be dependable. You probably will have to make important decisions all on your own. But there is hope. Someone will come along – even if only for a moment – to give you words of encouragement and wisdom. Life will never be the way you’d hoped it would be, but it will still be good. And remember: you are loved.

Highly recommended for readers 10 to 14 years old.

More stories of kids who have to take care of themselves

More stories of strong female characters

More stories set in Florida

Ruby in the Sky

Ferruolo, Jeanne Zulick. Ruby in the Sky. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2019.
Twelve-year-old Ruby has secrets to keep. No one is supposed to ask any questions about her mother and father. But when she meets a recluse who lives near her new home in Vermont, life starts to change. And when she meets Ahmed – a Syrian refugee – at her new school, friendship develops despite her reluctance. Maybe it is possible to find a new home, after all.  A wonderful story for readers 11 to 14 years old. 

And after you’ve read this novel, be sure to read Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie and Alan Cumyn’s North to Benjamin

More stories about moving to a new home

Houndsley and Catina and Cousin Wagster

Howe, James. Houndsley and Catina and Cousin Wagster. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2018.
Houndsley enthusiastically welcomes his adventurous cousin Wagster. But his feelings start to deflate when his best friend Catina turns her attentions to fun-loving Wagster. What will happen? Will Wagster ruin everything? This heart-warming story illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay is sure to appeal to readers 4 to 8 years old. 

More novels for young readers