I loved finding out about I Read Canadian Day! (@ireadcanadian) What a fun idea. I hope you take a few minutes to find out more about the events and that you join in by sharing some of your Canadian favorites with students, colleagues, and friends.
I Read Canadian!
In the last years I purposefully have endeavored to read and review diversely and encourage educators and librarians to introduce their readers to diverse authors and characters, diverse in not only ethnicity and race, but nationality, geography, religion, age, gender identification, sexual orientation, social-economic status, and physical and neuro-diversities. In other words, for readers to read to see themselves, their peers, and those they have not yet met in books and writing the books they read.
The goal of “I Read Canadian Day 2021” is for children nationwide in Canada to read a Canadian book for fifteen minutes on February 17th. The purpose of this event is to raise awareness of Canadian books and celebrate the richness, diversity and breadth of Canadian literature.
However, my goal is to use this celebration as an excuse to introduce YA Wednesday readers to some of my favorite Canadian YA authors and novels I have read in the last six years.
The Authors and the Books
Sketches is the story of adolescents who are homeless. Dana is a runaway and, with her new friends street-smart Brent and Ashley, she learns to navigate street life of Toronto. She becomes involved with Sketches, an agency that provides access to art supplies, a safe haven for artists, and maybe a way off the streets as art lets her confront her past.
We All Fall Down takes place on September 11, 2001, the day the students at Will’s high school were to shadow their parents at their workplaces. Ninth-grader William’s father John worked in international trade in the World Trade Center. At 8:46, shortly after arriving at John’s office on the 85th floor of the South Tower, they felt the force of an explosion. At 9:03, just before John, acting as fire warden for the floor, and Will were able to leave, the second plane hit the South Tower. Readers follow the father and son as they make the harrowing journey down 85 floors through heat and smoke, formulating split-second decisions and stopping to rescue and carry an injured woman, only to experience the collapse of the building as they reach the lobby. A quick but dramatic read, Eric Walters’ novel lets readers experience a close-up account of the day and the panic and fear and heroism of ordinary people as Will discovers another side of his father and John realizes how much time he has devoted to his job rather than to his family.
The sequel United We Stand begins on September 12, 2001 when Will’s best friend’s father, a firefighter at Ground Zero, last seen as he climbed the steps of the North Tower, is missing. This is a book about friendship, loss, support, and the aftermath of the events of 9/11.
Parvana’s Journey, a story of survival and resilience, continues the tale after Parvana’s family has left home and her father dies. As Parvana journeys to search for her mother, sister, and brother, she is joined by other child war victims—an infant boy in a bombed-out village, a nine-year-old girl and her grandmother, and a boy with one leg. Working together and showing incredible daring and courage, they survive street life, hunger, violence, and land mines.
Mud City, the third book in the series, is the story of Parvana's friend, 14-year-old Shauzia, who escaped from Kabul and is living in a mud refugee city on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan. She leaves the camp to try to make money on the streets of Peshawar, spends a night in jail, is temporarily taken in by Americans, but ends up back at the camp. Readers learn another effect of the war in Afghanistan through yet another spirited, resourceful adolescent girl who represents the hard realities of many of the girls living under the Taliban and the many people living in refugee camps.
My Name is Parvana completes the series in post-Taliban Afghanistan. The now-15-year-old Parvana has found her family, and they are running a school for girls. After the school is threatened—most likely by the Taliban, her mother is killed, and Americans bomb the school, Parvana is held on an American military base, suspected of being a terrorist. She stays silent during her harsh interrogations. Flashbacks fill readers in four years of the school. Independent and determined, Parvana escapes but returns to help a wounded American. She is finally rescued by a member of parliament, ending the series.
No Ordinary Dayamzn.to/2OqzGlt is set in the coal town of Jharia, India, where Valli picks coal to survive and avoids the lepers on the other side of the train tracks. When she runs away to Kolkata, she lives in the streets but, by chance, discovers that she has leprosy. Afraid of the others who are getting treatment, she leaves the hospital, but in the end, accepting help, she finds a meaning for her life. Readers learn about poverty, street life, and the facts, not the misrepresentations, of leprosy. In 2019 close to 15,000 children were diagnosed with Hansen's disease; an estimated 2 to 3 million people are living with Hansen's disease-related disabilities globally.
I Am a Taxi is set in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where Diego’s parents have been imprisoned for farming coca. Twelve-year-old Diego lives with his mother and his younger sister in the San Sebastian Women’s Prison, and he works as a “taxi,” running errands for other prisoners when not at school or selling his mother’s crafts at the market so they can rent an actual cell and buy food. When his mother earns a fine, he leaves with his friend to make money working in the jungle in an illegal cocaine operation, a truly dangerous situation. Diego and Mando discover that they may never get paid or be able to leave. The novel gives readers insight in poverty, corruption, prison conditions, and the cocaine trade in Bolivia; almost all of the cocaine produced globally comes from the Andean region (Colombia, Peru and the Plurinational State of Bolivia). Diego’s story is continued in Ellis’ novel Sacred Leaf
Deborah Ellis and Eric Walters co-authored Bifocal, a powerful YA novel told from alternating points of view. When the police arrest a Muslim student suspected of terrorist affiliation, racial lines are drawn at the high school already separated into White, Brown, Asian, and Black. The Muslim students become targeted. Haroon, an Afghan-Canadian and a serious student, and Jay, a white football star, can go along with their friends, choosing opposite sides because of their differences or stand together against racism, because of their similarities. This novel will generate conversations about stereotyping, bigotry, bystanders, and upstanders.
We Are All Made of Molecules is told in alternating voices of 14-year old Ashley and 13-year-old Stewart, complete opposites on the school social ladder. When Stewart’s dad moves them in with Ashley and her mom, the two teens become part of a blended family. Stewart’s mom died a few years before and he is dealing with grief, and Ashley’s father has “come out” and popular Ashley is afraid of her friends’ reactions. This is the story of acceptance of differences and coming together as a family. Stepfamilies, counted in the census for the first time in 2011, account for 12.6 per cent of Canada's 3.7 million families with children, with nearly 558,000 children aged 14 and under living in stepfamily homes; in the United States sixteen percent of children live in blended families.
No Fixed Address takes place in Vancouver and highlights a very important crisis, in both the United States and Canada—homelessness. Felix Fredrik Knutsson is 12-3/4 years old and has to determine ways to navigate life. “Astrid and Daniel were great people…but they were not great parents." (176) What I most appreciated in the novel was the resilience and resourcefulness of Felix and the support of his friends, Dylan and Winnie. The novel illustrates many of the challenges experienced by homeless families to maintain the veneer of normalcy and to stay together and paints a realistic picture of many of the 1.3 million homeless students in the United States and in Canada, where an estimated 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness each year, one of the fastest growing demographics of the homeless population being children and families. It is critical that this story, or stories like this, be read by teachers and students to build empathy and understanding of classmates who may be experiencing these types of difficulties.
Scars relates the story of Kendra, an abuse survivor. It has been three years since the abuse ended; it has been six months since 15-year-old Kendra started remembering the abuse she suffered since she was a toddler. As flashbacks of the sexual abuse surface, Kendra can remember everything except the identity of her abuser. She is certain he is following her, especially when she finds threatening notes left for her. Cutting helps her relieve her building anxiety. Kendra also finds relief through her art even though her artist mother disapproves her methods. Luckily, Kendra is receiving support from Carolyn, her empathetic therapist; her art teacher who is studying art therapy; and Meghan, her new girlfriend who is struggling through her own family issues. This novel presents such mental health issues as Complex PTSD, self-harm, and sexual abuse. Ms. Rainfeld is working on a sequel to Scars to be published in the near future.
The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B’s “hero” is fourteen-year-old Adam Spencer Ross who is a member of a Young Adult OCD Support Group. When he meets and instantly falls in love with the newest member, Robyn Plummer, recently released from a residential facility, he decides he will get better, save Robyn, and become the super hero that he has chosen as his group identity. Complicating this, Adam has two families: one comprised of a detached father, a loving stepmother; and an anxiety-filled young half-brother and his mother who is a hoarder with additional mental health issues. Adam tries navigating his world, suppressing his OCD, working with his therapist, and helping those around him. Adam’s story highlights the importance of family, friendship, and hope in the treatment of mental illness.
Romy was sexually assaulted by the sheriff’s son, the golden boy. No one believes the allegations of a girl from her side of town. By coming forward, she is bullied by her former friends. As rumors that other girls who knew Kellan have been assaulted or even missing, Romy has to decide how hard she will fight to be believed in a society where shame and silence often follow sexual violence. A compelling story that will cause both adolescent girls and boys to confront bias and societal norms.
“Girls go missing all the time.” (15)
Nineteen-year-old Sadie Hunter’s younger sister was murdered, the sister Sadie loved with all her heart and raised from the time Mattie was born but especially after their mother left. Sadie is sure she knows who murdered Mattie—their mother’s ex-boyfriend who abused 10-year-old Sadie., and she takes off to avenge her sister’s death, following lead after lead, determined to track down Keith and kill him. And along the way she finds other victims—and other perpetrators.
Months later ,radio personality Wes McCray, the WNRK producer of the show “Always Out There” searches for Sadie, interviewing people who knew her, detectives in the towns Sadie traveled through, and those who came in contact with her during her quest, following leads and hunches. Wes becomes more consumed as the story that will become his serialized podcast develops.
Alternating chapters between “The Girls” podcast episodes with its in-person and phone interviews and Sadie’s first-person account from the day she left, readers learn about the strong, resilient, resourceful teen who grew up in poverty, unloved, bullied because of a stutter, whose only concern is avenging Mattie’s death and saving other abused children.
Punch Like a Girl is not about attempted date rape; it is a story about the power of finally speaking out.
"He tried to rape me." The words flutter free. "Again."
After Tori is sexually assaulted by her controlling ex-boyfriend, she lashes out at others and herself, physically and emotionally. But through standing up for others, she learns to stand up for herself, not by punching and pushing away, but by letting others in and sharing her story, thereby healing herself.
This novel is a compelling but quick read for teens—without any graphic description or profanity. Its strength is that it doesn't bash all males; there are some wonderfully drawn male teen characters—Jamarlo, Daniel, Sal, and finally, even Joel. The story also demonstrates the complexity of adolescent female relationships.
E. K. Johnston
Exit: Pursued by a Bear
Hermione was enjoying her last summer of cheerleading camp, leading her fellow cheerleaders—female and male—and making new friends—female and male. Then the unthinkable happened. At a dance she was drugged and raped. She woke up in the hospital , that part of the evening a blank. The advantage is that Hermione did not “experience” the rape and so does not relive the horror, but there are disadvantages that are unconceivable. Not only is Hermione not behaving as other expect her to behave, leading to rumors and shaming, but she has a gap in her life and now is terrified of losing time. She also does not know who raped her or whom she can now trust. Luckily, she can trust her best friend Polly, the fiercest, most protective friend a girl can have. With a supportive family and cheer team and a very entertaining therapist, Hermione works her way to recovery.
Review the Books in the Slideshow!
Lesley is the author of five books for educators:
- Bridging the Gap: Reading Critically & Writing Meaningfully to Get to the Core
- Comma Quest: The Rules They Followed. The Sentences They Saved
- No More “Us” & “Them: Classroom Lessons and Activities to Promote Peer Respect
- The Write to Read: Response Journals That Increase Comprehension
- Talking Texts: A Teachers’ Guide to Book Clubs across the Curriculum
- and has contributed chapters to
- Young Adult Literature in a Digital World: Textual Engagement though Visual Literacy
- Queer Adolescent Literature as a Complement to the English Language Arts Curriculum
- Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning through the Power of Storytelling (in press)