A GOOD READ: Some favourite books for young people

This past year was a good one for new children’s books, and I hope you enjoy some of my favourites from the past year.

In the information, category try these:

• Eat Your Math Homework: Recipes for Hungry Minds by Ann McCallum: If only this book had existed when I was young, I may have actually understood basic math and even enjoyed the subject. Troubled by Fibonacci strings? Just make snack sticks that illustrate the theory. Frazzled by fractions? Fraction taco chips will get you on your way. Puzzled by polygons and pi? Never fear, the funny illustrations and simple explanations and tasty snacks will set you straight.

• A Street through Time: A 12,000-Year Walk through History by Steve Noon: This fantastically illustrated book takes readers on a walk through a street from 10,000 BC to today, showing all of the changes in the buildings and social change. From a tribe calling on the forest spirits to museums and gyms, the tiny detailed cut-away pictures are fascinating. If you or your child is at all interested in history, you will spend hours enjoying this panorama.

• You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey: The ability to explain complex concepts to young children is a gift. As all parents know, the young have inquisitive minds and it is not always easy to answer their questions. Here is a Canadian book for parents and children explaining how people are linked to nature in the most surprising ways. Simple text and stunning 3D artwork by Soyeon Kim make the environmental connections easy and amazing, including: “Every tiny atom in your body came from a star that exploded long before you were born.”

Here are my favourite fiction books of the year:

• A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, with art by Jim Kay: The first winner of both the British Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, this young adult novel packs an emotional punch that stays with the reader after the book is put down. It was based on an idea left with her publisher by Siobhan Dowd, a well-respected author who died far too young in 2007: 13-year-old Conor is suffering from a recurring nightmare and he has no one to tell about his nightly terror. Then, to make things even more difficult, some sort of giant tree monster starts calling his name from the yew tree outside. Surely this is just another nightmare? But then, why are there yew needles on his bedroom floor? The monster has apparently come to tell him stories, of all things. He faces the yew monster and his stories bravely because the worst thing in his life is neither the nightmare nor the tree monster. Conor is facing a far worse monster, one that the reader only recognizes gradually. The amazing illustrations extend and intensify the story of Conor’s bravery. Highly recommended for young adults and parents alike.

• The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers: Who is Tink Aaron-Martin? The 12-year-old (christened Isadora) tells all in this encyclopedia of her year. Many things happen, she loses her BFF, finds a boyfriend, learns more about her family and herself. The entries range from insightful to hilarious to sad. Rivers has channeled her inner 12-year-old in today’s idiom. She advises us on books to read, books not to read, to stop reading the book right now if we don’t like what she has to say. Need advice on living with an autistic brother? How should you react to kids who don’t get being biracial? Don’t understand afros? It’s all here.

• Drama by Raina Telgemeier: This graphic novel is a fine follow up to Telgemeier's popular Smile. She has again nailed the drama, the need to define oneself and shifting friendships of middle school. Callie likes Greg but Greg likes Bonnie and someone else she least suspects likes Callie. In the midst of all of this emotion, the gang is sorting themselves out into the starring roles and backstage support for their school’s musical production. Has Callie bitten off too much? Can she really get a working cannon ready for the big show? Funny and emotional, this is a great graphic read for pre-teen and teen girls, and even for those adults who remember what it was like to be 13.

• Wonder by R.J. Palacio: August was born with severe facial deformities and has had 27 surgeries. Even now, at 10, his face makes people stare and make hurtful comments. His mother has home-schooled him but now it is time to go to Grade 5 — in a school. He dreads what will happen to him, and it does. Some kids get over his appearance fairly quickly and even become friends. But most cannot get over it and he is cruelly bullied by one of the most popular boys. Auggie is funny and smart, his family is supportive and those who can see beyond his appearance find a wonderful boy. Different sections of the book are told by other people in August’s life, and this rounds out the story. This is a story of bravery and strength that will stay with the reader.

• What Came from the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt: When a peaceful civilization is threatened by dark powers, their heroes bind all the beauty of their world into a necklace and send it flying through the universe. It lands in the lunchbox of 12-year-old Tommy. When he puts it on, he develops super powers, sees a strange creature emerge from sand and starts speaking an alien language. At first he hardly notices, his mother has died recently and his sister isn’t speaking any more. But soon the dark powers come searching for the necklace and they will stop at nothing to get what they want. This is a gripping fantasy that readers will not want to put down.

A Good Read is a column by Tri-City librarians that is published every Wednesday. Deborah Duncan is children's co-ordinator at Coquitlam Public Library


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