Memories of Stories

You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.”
– Scott M. Peck, American psychiatrist and writer

Paulsen, Gary.  Fishbone’s SongNew York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016.
There is a deep ache in all of Paulsen’s stories. But there is also an expansive love. The kind of love that recognizes we are all part of each other.  Even when we think we are alone, we are not truly alone.  This Side of Life, an autobiographical account of some of the author’s relationships with animals, expands on this theme.
Fishbone’s Song, however, is Paulsen’s most lyrically profound novel. A young boy, a foundling, grows up deep in the woods, raised by an an old man, a veteran of the Korean war, who teaches him much more than how to survive. He teaches him how to live with wisdom and honour.  And he teaches him the power of memories and stories. And that is the power of Gary Paulsen. He shows us that your story and my story are connected. And that we will only truly have lived when we see that we are all part of a larger story.  [Country life; Foundlings; Hunting; Nature stories; Old age; Self-reliance; Storytelling]

Read more about Paulsen’s books HERE

Find stories about the power of reading HERE

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” – Philip Pullman, British author

Print Friendly

Don’t Stop Questioning

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
Albert Einstein

Meltzer, Brad. I Am Albert Einstein. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014.
This small biography is part of the charming picture book series ‘Ordinary People Change the World’. Told from the first person point of view and illustrated in cartoon style by Christopher Eliopoulos, each volume provides an overview of a famous person while focusing on a specific character trait. In this story, the focus is on curiosity. Black and white photos of Einstein, a time line, and a bibliography conclude this biography recommended for readers 8 to 14 years old. [Einstein, Albert; Physicists]

Click HERE to find more great biographies.

Print Friendly

International Women’s Day

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” – L.M. Montgomery in Anne of Green Gables

Stanley, Diane. Ada Lovelace: Poet of Science : the First Computer Programmer. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016. 

What a brilliant biography! The style of writing is lively and humorous!  The illustrations by Jessica Hartland enhance the mood and extend the story.  Historical information, a bibliography, and a glossary are provided at the end of the book. Highly recommended for all ages. [Babbage, Charles; Lovelace, Ada King, Countess of; Mathematicians; Women computer programmers]

“I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.” – Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein  

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2005).

Alia Baker, a librarian in Iraq, hid books in her home before bombs and gunfire could destroy them; she hid more books in a building right beside the library, but then afraid that they would be nevertheless destroyed, being so close to the library, she hired a truck to move all thirty thousand books to the houses of friends farther away where they would be safe until the war was over.  This simple yet powerful biography will appeal to readers seven years old and up.

Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged! by Jody Nyasha Warner (Toronto: Groundwood Books, 2010).

The story of an African Canadian who refused to give up her seat in a movie theatre and move to the balcony reserved for black patrons. This courageous act in Nova Scotia in 1946 started the move to end racial segregation in Canada. Illustrated by Richard Rudnicki and accompanied by additional historical information at the end, this picture book is recommended for readers 8 years old and up and could be compared to the story of Rosa Parks in America.

More Books about Girls and Women

“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” – Malala Yousafzai

The Tree Lady: the True Story of How One Tree-loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins (New York: Beach Lane Books, 2013).
In the late 1800s, an American moved to San Diego in southern California. Kate Sessions decided her new city needed more greenery, so she planted hundred and hundreds of trees and taught countless people how to grow gardens. She became known as the Mother of Balboa Park.

Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace by Jen Cullerton Johnson (Lee & Low Books, 2010). 

Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2010).

Planting the Trees of Kenya

Planting the Trees of Kenya: the Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivoli (Frances Foster Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008). 

Wangari MaathaI: the Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Franck Prevot (Charlesbridge, 2015).

Wangari’s Trees of Peace: a True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter (Harcourt, 2008).

Print Friendly

The House of Wisdom

“We should not be ashamed to acknowledge truth from whatever source it comes to us, even if it is brought to us by former generations and foreign peoples. For him who seeks the truth there is nothing of higher value than truth itself.” – al-Kindi, 9th century philosopher “

Heide, Florence Parry and Judith Heide Gilliland. The House of Wisdom. New York: DK Ink, 1999.

Long ago, during the Dark Ages in Europe, knowledge flourished in the Arabic-speaking world. Baghdad became the centre of a great civilization that made lasting discoveries in cartography, geography, mathematics, chemistry, medicine, and philosophy. Scholars gathered to study together and translate foreign documents in what was the largest library in the world.

Ishaq, the main character in this picture book biography, travels to far-away lands and returns with thousands of books and manuscripts  He later goes on to translate all the works of Aristotle into Arabic. Later still, those Arabic translations would help inspire the European Renaissance.

Softly coloured illustrations by Mary GrandPré, additional historical information, a timeline, and a map enhance this quietly adventurous biography for readers 9 years old and up.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle, ancient Greek philosopher

Print Friendly

Child Soldiers

“I lost my childhood. I didn’t play football or video games. Or have birthdays or the love of a family.” – Emmanual Jal, South-Sudanese Canadian musician and former child soldier

Canada is about to become the first country in the world to issue military guidelines on how to deal with child soldiers. Retired senator Romeo Dallaire – who wrote the forward for Eric Walter’s Shattered, a young-adult novel about a soldier suffering post-traumatic stress disorder – helped draft the new rules.

Under the proposed guidelines, Canadian troops will be taught how to identify child soldiers who might be a threat to them. They will be taught how to care for child soldiers who are detained. These new guidelines are vital as Canadian troops expect to encounter more and more child soldiers in coming years.  Canada’s Notional Post story

Here are five books about the plight of child soldiers around the world:

Humphries, Jessica Dee and Michel Chikwanine. Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls are Used in War. Toronto: Kids Can Press, 2015.

This graphic novel tells the true story of author Michel Chikwanine who came to Canada from the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa when he was 16 years old. Background information and suggestions for further research accompany this powerful autobiography recommended for readers 11 years old and up.

McCormick, Patricia. Never Fall Down. New York : Balzer + Bray, 2012.
Arn is forced to serve as a child soldier in Cambodia in this disturbing novel – based on a true story – recommended for readers thirteen years old and up.


McKay, Sharon E. War Brothers. Toronto: Puffin Canada, 2008.
Three children – Hannah, Jacob, and Oteka – find themselves trapped in Africa’s Lord’s Resistance Army in this suspense-filled novel for readers 12 years old and up. 


Perkins, Mitali. Bamboo People. Watertown, Mass.: Charlesbridge, 2010.
Chiko – forced to join the Burmese army- and Tu Reh – a runaway from a refugee camp – unexpectedly stumble upon each other in the jungle in this harrowing novel for readers 12 years old and up.


Stratton, Allan. Chanda’s Wars. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2008.
African teenager Chanda Kabelo and her siblings try to escape after they are kidnapped by General Mandiki’s rebel army in this dramatic novel recommended for readers thirteen years old and up.

 Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative


Print Friendly

Fairy Tales for Teens

Great novels give us new information and new ideas. They also make us more humble. They help us see ourselves as part of the universe rather than at the centre of it. They give us courage to keep going when none of our plans work out and we have to start all over again.  

Here are two stories about current world events that are unfortunately not so great, even though they are quite entertaining and even informative:


Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz (Harlequin Teen, 2016) is not a great novel. It tells the story of a teenager who wins a National Scholarship Award but discovers she is ineligible. Her Filipino parents have been working without proper documentation and now the whole family is about to be deported. Jasmine, a popular cheerleader, has always worked hard to do everything perfectly. Now all her plans are in jeopardy because her parents have failed to become legal residents of the U.S.A.  

The portrayal of life for undocumented residents is informative. The depiction of emotional pain encourages empathy. But the story is altogether too much of a fairy tale: Jasmine is a self-pitying heroine who must prevail over the forces of injustice. This 432-page novel, inspired by the author’s experiences, is recommended for teenagers looking for a romance story that doesn’t threaten their own sense of self-importance.

Red Glass by Laura Resau (Delacorte Press, 2007) is another disappointing novel. Sixteen-year-old Sophie learns more about life for illegal immigrants while travelling from Arizona to Mexico and Guatemala. The story vividly portrays the hardships faced by people fleeing their homelands. It loudly declares the unfairness of showing compassion for refugees from Europe while rejecting immigrants from Central America.  And that is much of the problem. Everything is just so obvious. And so this book, too, turns into a fairy tale: an innocent heroine learning to overcome her fears in order to show her true goodness. Despite winning several awards, this 275-page novel can only be recommended for readers willing to learn about current events but really wanting a romance.

Click HERE to learn how to assess novels and picture books.

Click HERE for books on migration and refugees.

Print Friendly

You, Too, Were Once Strangers

“While every refugee’s story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common thread of uncommon courage – the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives.” – Antonio Guterres, U.N. Secretary-General

There are many novels about courageous people who helped others during the Holocaust. There are far fewer about brave people who help others today; one of the most powerful is this novel from Britain. 

Halahmy, Miriam. Hidden. New York: Holiday House, 2016.

“Fourteen-year-old Alix is faced with a huge moral dilemma when she helps pull an illegal Iraqi immigrant from the incoming tide on the coastal English island where she lives.” – CIP.  Stories written in present tense from the first-person point of view are frequently tiresome in their self-obsession but this novel is a remarkable exception. Alix has no perfect life and no illusions about her own importance. What she has is the ability to see life from someone else’s point of view. Discovering the horror of life for refugees fleeing torture and seeking asylum opens her heart and reveals her courage in this novel highly recommended for all readers 12 years old and up. [England; Family problems; Friendship; Iraqis; Racism; Refugees; Schools; Secrets]

“For a start, people who traveled for so many miles through such horrific conditions in order to find work cannot accurately be portrayed as lazy benefit-scroungers”. – Patrick Kingsley, British journalist

Find more books about migration and refugees HERE

“I urge you to celebrate the extraordinary courage and contributions of refugees past and present.” – Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General

Find information and lessons on human migration HERE.  

Print Friendly