Confessions of a Book Lover: The Early Days

As a self-proclaimed book lover, I pride myself on my love of reading and all things book related. When I was very young, my parents introduced me to interactive, picture, and digital books (I still have my LeapPad to this day). While I admittedly can’t remember an exact instance or moment when, transfixed by the jumble of words and illustrations in front of me, it became clear that this activity would become a lifelong hobby, I do know that I always felt strangely entranced by magical tales of beautiful princesses, handsome princes, and faraway lands.

I was constantly reading these picture books but, at the age of 5, I realized I wasn’t fully satisfied. While picture books painted vivid pictures of distant kingdoms and lifelong friendships, I wasn’t fully convinced that this was an accurate representation of the world; there had to be something more.

That evening, for the first time, I picked up a copy of The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, which was 154 pages long. Seated on the couch, with my mother on one side of me and my father on the other, I began to read it aloud. Throughout the story there was a constant clash between good and evil, right and wrong. Along with reading and discovering this book came a newfound feeling of independence and confidence in my ability to read. I started to look for more and more chapter books to spend my afternoons reading, digesting, and absorbing.

The transition, though, was not easy. To go from reading 15 to 20 page books to reading one that is 154 pages in length (depending on the copy you buy, of course) was a big leap for me and daunting at first. Will I even be able to understand it?

How long will it take me to read? What if nobody else is reading chapter books now? These were all questions that ran circles in my mind as I was making my decision. Eventually I talked it out with my parents and realized that the decision to read chapter books would only make me a more informed and better educated, individual—and who doesn’t want that! At that point, my classmates at school were also starting to explore more challenging books; some were even reading chapter books like me. This did make me feel more comfortable making, what I thought at the time was, a drastic leap.

Although challenging ourselves to read more complex, lengthy books is important, children do not transition from picture books to chapter books, never to return. We live in an age of visuals; picture books teach visual literacy like no other teaching tool and every child should always have picture books on the go. Picture books should be read from birth to adulthood, and nowadays publishers cater for this with a plethora of picture book choices for all ages and stages. I started out by reading The Wizard of Oz, but there are so many wonderful options to choose from to make your chapter book debut, and with this in mind I have compiled a brief list of some great books to check out:

The Wind in the Willows (Easy Reader Classics)

by Kenneth Grahame

Mole, Water Rat, Badger, and, of course, Toad of Toad Hall: these characters have captivated young minds for over a century. Kenneth Grahame’s classic cast of animal friends enjoy life on the river, hit the road in Toad’s brand-new cart, get lost in the dark, and have adventures in the Wild Wood. These enchanting and humorous tales provide timeless enjoyment for all ages.

Paddington Novel Series (Love from Paddington)

by Michael Bond

Told through Paddington’s letters to his aunt Lucy back in Peru, this novel written by Michael Bond offers Paddington’s own special view on some of his most famous adventures. From stowing away on a ship to working as a barber, Paddington shares his charming, and hilarious, take on the world.

Charlotte’s Web

by E.B White

This beloved book by E. B. White is a classic of children’s literature that is just about perfect. Charlotte’s spider web tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter. E. B. White’s Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.

There Are No Answers in the Back of the Book for Life’s Tough Questions

As you journey through your school years, you will be faced with a number of different problems that you will be told you need to provide an answer for: math homework, history tests, where to go to high school, where to apply for university, and almost definitely what do you want to do when you’re older? Unlike with math problems, there is no formula that you can use to make decisions in regards to your life’s path. As someone who’s been through it, I’d like to say that not having a formula isn’t always a bad thing.

School can be a stressful experience in itself; it requires you to balance your academics with your social life and your extra-curricular activities. As you get older, you might start to experience some added pressure from your parents, your teachers, or even your peers to have a confident response for the question, “what’s next?”

The truth is, you won’t always know and you don’t always have to; it’s perfectly okay to go with the flow.  In grade eight, you will have the opportunity to apply to a specific high school, or to your feeder school. The feeder school will automatically accept you, whereas any other schools you apply to may require a specific set of requirements for your admission, such as academic scores or high achievement in a sport or the arts. Everyone has their own reasons for applying outside of their feeder school, but it is important to remember that all hope is not lost if you don’t end up at the high school you thought you would. In Canada, we are very fortunate to have access to a strong public education system, and for the most part, your education is what you make it. Two people could have an identical education, but it is your responsibility to apply yourself in a way that is most productive for your goals. If you commit yourself to learning the material, you will be prepared for post-secondary. It’s important to remember that not getting into the school you thought you would shouldn’t change your dreams; it will only change the course you take to achieve them. There are many possible paths and outcomes that you won’t be able to predict, no matter how hard you try.

When I was in grade 12 and the time to apply for university rolled around, I was farther from knowing what I wanted to do than I had ever been. For at least two years leading up to the application deadline, I was sure I would go to the University of Ottawa. I was strong in French in high school and thought that since I did well in it, I should continue to study it in a bilingual city. I visited the campus and found out that Ottawa was not for me. Even though French was my best subject and it might have been in my “best interest” to follow this path, I didn’t like the campus and I wasn’t in love with the city like I expected. Learning this set me back to square one. I visited guidance counselors and took aptitude tests to try to figure out what program suited me best, but in the end, I didn’t apply for any of them.

Instead, I took a look at what I actually enjoyed, not only in school, but also what I liked to do in my free time. At the suggestion of one of my teachers, I concluded that critical media studies might be something I was interested in, even though I had never heard of such a program before.

Not having a solid idea of what I wanted to do in terms of study–or for work once school was over—gave me the opportunity to explore a variety of options when I started my first year of university. I learned that I didn’t like film classes in the way that I thought I would and that I really liked political science. Your first and even second years of university are an opportunity to explore what you actually enjoy learning about. I think it is important to look at it this way because in my experience, you need to be open to the possibility that your life plans will change. For this reason, I want to reassure you that not having a plan at all is okay too. For me, I started university in a program I applied for because someone suggested it to me, not because it was my strongest subject or because I thought it would lead to a job.

I then spent four years figuring out what I wanted to learn, instead of struggling with concepts I didn’t enjoy; instead of asking myself, “what job do I want after I finish my degree,” I was asking, “what do I want to do after completing my degree.”

What I found was that I loved learning and being in the university environment, so instead of applying for jobs in my fourth year, I began applying for graduate school. Was a Master’s degree a part of my plan when I was choosing where to go to high school in grade eight? Absolutely not. It wasn’t even on my radar in grade 12 when I was applying for university. In all honesty, it may have seemed like a last minute decision, but in the end it worked out anyway. I now work in the charitable sector doing work that I enjoy, with skills that I didn’t even know I would have when this journey started. If you don’t know what skills you’ll have in the future, how can you be expected to have a plan for it before you’re even 18!

You have more time to plan your life than you think and there’s no need to rush into the “real world.” Some people take more time discovering themselves and their interests than others, so don’t feel like you’re in a bad place just because your friend already has her major picked out. Instead, enjoy your time in school – it really will be over before you know it!

7 Canadian Books from 2017 for Middle-Graders

The holidays are always a great time to encourage kids to read. They have a lot of time on their hands and though the holidays are about spending time with the family, sometimes mom and dad just need a few minutes (like 2 or maybe 60!) to prepare a meal or relax. So here are 7 Canadian books, with varying themes, published in 2017 that you can stick in front of your children whether they are avid readers or not.

The list was inspired by bestselling lists, award lists, lists of the best books of 2017, and our KW4K authors. All recommendations are middle-grade reads except where indicated. Enjoy!

1. Knock About with the Fitzgerald-Trouts

by Esta Spalding (Author), Sydney Smith (Illustrator)
Genre: Adventure Fiction

This is the second book of the Dahl-esque series about the Fitzgerald Trout kids who have to fend for themselves as they can’t trust the grown-ups to do what needs to be done. Though this book is considered middle-grade, it seems to do well being read out to younger crowds as well. So if you have a child in middle school and another in elementary, this might be a good book for them to read together.

Book synopsis:

“Witty, full of heart and genuinely fun to read…a wacky, lighthearted romp.”–The New York Times Book Review

Welcome to the further adventures of the plucky Fitzgerald-Trout siblings, who live on a tropical island where the grown-ups are useless, but the kids can drive. In this second installment, the delightfully self-reliant siblings continue their search for a home. This time, their pursuit will bring them face-to-face with a flood, illegal carnivorous plants, and the chance to win an extraordinary prize at a carnival. Will they finally find a place to call home?

2. Shadow of a Pug (Howard Wallace, P.I., Book 2)

by Casey Lyall
Genre: Mystery

This fun detective story can be found on a few favourites lists around the internet and is sure to get kids minds buzzing with ideas as they solve the mystery along with Howard Wallace, P.I.

Book synopsis:

Middle-school detectives Howard Wallace and Ivy Mason are itching for a juicy case.

But when their friend and cohort Marvin hires them to prove his nephew— über-bully Carl Dean—didn’t pugnap the school mascot, they’re less than thrilled. To succeed, not only must Howard and Ivy play nice with Carl, they’ll have to dodge a scrappy, snoopy reporter and come face-to-face with Howard’s worst enemy, his ex-best friend Miles Fletcher. Can Howard deal with all these complications and still be there for Ivy when her life is turned upside down? Or will he once again find himself a friendless P.I.?

3. The Artsy Mistake Mystery: The Great Mistake Mysteries

by Sylvia McNicoll
Genre: Mystery

The Artsy Mistake Mystery is the second installment in The Great Mistake Mysteries series. It’s a fun read for parents and children alike and is especially nice for kids who are just a little different from their peers. This is also definitely a good way to remind kids that making mistakes is okay. (For more on what kids would love about this book, take a look at this insightful review.)

Book synopsis:

They say he’s been stealing art. But is Attila being framed?

Outdoor art is disappearing all over the neighbourhood! From elaborate Halloween decorations to the Stream of Dreams fish display across the fence at Stephen and Renée’s school, it seems no art is safe. Renée’s brother, Attila, has been cursing those model fish since he first had to make them as part of his community service. So everyone thinks Attila is behind it when they disappear. But, grumpy teen though he is, Attila can do no wrong in Renée’s eyes, so she enlists Stephen’s help to catch the real criminal.

4. The Explorers: The Door in the Alley

by Adrienne Kress
Genre: Mystery/Adventure Fiction

Here’s a book with a big sell that is sure to be a hit with your child. It’s the first in a series and has been optioned off to be turned into a Disney film. It has the excitement and thrill of adventure plus the wackiness of a free roaming imagination. It’s good for kids to continue to keep their imaginations active. And according to Book Riot, it’s an excellent book for reluctant readers!

Book synopsis:

Featuring a mysterious society, a secretive past, and a pig in a teeny hat, The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is the first book in a new series for fans of The Name of This Book Is a Secret and The Mysterious Benedict Society. Knock once if you can find it—but only members are allowed inside.

This is one of those stories that start with a pig in a teeny hat. It’s not the one you’re thinking about. (This story is way better than that one.) This pig-in-a-teeny-hat story starts when a very uninquisitive boy stumbles upon a very mysterious society. After that, there is danger and adventure; there are missing persons, hired thugs, a hidden box, a lost map, and famous explorers; and there is a girl looking for help that only uninquisitive boys can offer.

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is the first book in a series that is sure to hit young readers right in the funny bone.

5. Masterminds: Payback

by Gordon Korman
Genre: Science Fiction/Mystery

Gordon Korman’s books come highly recommended from one of our KW4K authors, Christopher Smolej. Plus, this is the third (and possibly final) book in the Mastermind series so it’s a good time for the kids to read the whole series at once.

Book synopsis from HarperCollins.com:

The thrilling finale to the New York Times-bestselling Masterminds series from middle grade star author Gordon Korman. Perfect for fans of Rick Riordan and James Patterson.

After a serious betrayal from one of their former friends, the clones of Project Osiris are on the run again. Now separated into pairs, Eli and Tori and Amber and Malik are fighting to survive in the real world.

Amber and Malik track down the one person they think can help them prove the existence of Project Osiris, notorious mob boss Gus Alabaster, also known as Malik’s DNA donor. But as Malik gets pulled into the criminal world—tantalized by hints of a real family—his actions put him and Amber into greater danger.

Eli and Tori get sucked into even bigger conspiracies as they hunt down Project Osiris’s most closely guarded secrets—who does Eli’s DNA come from? With a surprising new ally and another cross-country adventure, the four will have to work together to overcome the worst parts of themselves if they are going to end Project Osiris once and for all.

6. Those Who Run in the Sky

by Aviaq Johnston
Age Range: 12+
Genre: Adventure Fiction

Those Who Run in the Sky is inspired by spiritual aspects of Inuit culture and is a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for young people’s literature (— text). Sharing this book with your child is a good way to continue to expose your child to different aspects of Indigenous culture.

Book synopsis:

This teen novel, written by Iqaluit-based Inuit author Aviaq Johnston, is a coming-of-age story that follows a young shaman named Pitu as he learns to use his powers and ultimately finds himself lost in the world of the spirits.

After a strange and violent blizzard leaves Pitu stranded on the sea ice, without his dog team or any weapons to defend himself, he soon realizes that he is no longer in the word that he once knew. The storm has carried him into the world of the spirits, a world populated with terrifying creatures—black wolves with red eyes, ravenous and constantly stalking him; water-dwelling creatures that want nothing more than to snatch him and pull him into the frigid ocean through an ice crack. As well as beings less frightening, but equally as incredible, such as a lone giant who can carry Pitu in the palm of her hand and keeps caribou and polar bears as pets.

After stumbling upon a fellow shaman who has been trapped in the spirit world for many years, Pitu must master all of his shamanic powers to make his way back to the world of the living, to his family, and to the girl that he loves.

7. The Winnowing

by Vikki VanSickle
Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy/Science Fiction

This is for all the sci-fi fans out there. Vikki VanSickle presents a fantasy/sci-fi world that the author herself heralds as inspired by The X-Files. But this book is also explores the themes of friendship, loyalty, and the courage needed to grow up.

Book synopsis:

In a world where the familiar has sinister undertones, two friends are torn apart just when they need one another most. Can they both survive?

Marivic Stone lives in a small world, and that’s fine with her. Home is with her beloved grandfather in a small town that just happens to be famous for a medical discovery that saved humankind — though not without significant repercussions. Marivic loves her best friend, Saren, and the two of them promise to stick together, through thick and thin, and especially through the uncertain winnowing procedure, a now inevitable — but dangerous — part of adolescence.

But when tragedy separates the two friends, Marivic is thrust into a world of conspiracy, rebellion and revolution. For the first time in her life, Marivic is forced to think and act big. If she is going to avenge Saren and right a decade of wrongs, she will need to trust her own frightening new abilities, even when it means turning her back on everything, and everyone, she’s known and loved. A gripping exploration of growing up, love and loss, The Winnowing is a page-turning adventure that will have readers rooting for their new hero, Marivic Stone, as they unravel the horror and intrigue of a world at once familiar but with a chilling strangeness lurking beneath the everyday.

Bonus:

Stock up on some stocking stuffers with these short reads by our Kids Write 4 Kids winners that are sure to inspire your kids to do some writing of their own.

How to be an Abbott

by Olivia Simms (2017 Kids Write 4 Kids Winner)
Age Range: 8-14

Here’s what award-winning author Karen Bass has to say about it: “A tale of belonging with unforgettable characters. I loved discovering How to be an Abbott.

Book synopsis:

Noah Thompson feels like no one really understands him. But when he meets Evan, he learns a thing or two about friendship, belonging, and family.

Summon The Magic

by Emily Little (2017 Kids Write 4 Kids Winner)
Age Range: 8-14

Karen Bass, award-winning author says, “Summon the Magic casts you into a fantastic world of imagination and adventure. I relished every twist and turn.” We think your kid will too.

Book synopsis:

For six teens in the small town of Hillside, the start of a new school year is anything but ordinary. It brings the discovery of strange powers, dragons, and a mission to save a whole other world.

Once your middle graders are done reading, if they want to do some writing of their own, don’t forget to get them to submit their creation to the 2017-2018 Kids Write 4 Kids writing contest. Submissions end on March 31, 2018. Go to this online form to enter.