What if you discovered your very own pet dinosaur?
When Ely’s dog, Tommy, is accidentally killed in a car accident on his morning walk, Ely is overcome with grief. To help him deal with his loss, his parents send Ely to spend time at his grandpa’s over summer vacation. One day he sees a plastic T-Rex model and thinks, common sense aside, how cool it would be to have a pet T-Rex. He is soon in for a big surprise when he wanders into a cave — and meets a real T-Rex! But this is no ordinary dinosaur: he follows Ely around like a dog, and can do tricks like a dog, too. As they spend more time together, the bond between them grows stronger. Ely decides to name the dinosaur Tommy, and people flock to see the T-Rex. They even hold a show to raise money to help fund his care.
But not all are in support of Ely and his dinosaur. Randy, a local bully, can’t stand to let Ely get all the glory as the popular kid. No one can anticipate what happens next when he tries to take things into his own hands.
TenNapel’s graphic novels share an overarching sense of darkness, both in storyline and illustrations, but there are also strong themes of hope and family love. The number of kids and parents who have sought out his works at my library got me hooked, and I am glad of it. Tommysaurus Rex is anything but a light read: within a mere 137 pages, TenNapel addresses love, loss and bullying. I teared up more than once, but found the story’s resolution heartwarming.
When he is eleven years old, and dying of cancer, Sam decides to write a book. Nothing big — just his own story, and his favourite interesting facts, and the questions that he wishes someone would answer (but no one ever does). Instructed initially just to “write something about yourselves,” Sam discovers that this is a great way to process how he, and the people around him, respond to the expectation the doctors have given that this will be his last battle with cancer.
Sam is particularly fond of lists, and one — an assignment to describe things he’d like to do — ends up providing the central thread through his book. Sam lists eight things that he’d like to do, without believing that any of them is really possible. When his friend, and fellow cancer patient, Felix, challenges him on that, Sam sets out to complete his list. Some are relatively easy: while his mom is busy shopping one afternoon, Sam sneaks off to trek up a down escalator. Others take creative interpretation, like the World Record Setting Occasional Wardrobe Nightclub. And at least one requires the help of his dad, who’s had a hard time believing that his son really won’t be healthy again.
Sam’s story is sometimes intense, often funny, and always very personal. Sam and his family and friends are fully-realised and complex; together they provide an engaging picture of one child’s death that avoids cliché and manipulation while suggesting how others in a similar situation might feel. Sam shows fear and anger, and determination and humour and curiosity. His mother is weary and grieving and expects homework and manners while understanding that sometimes going sledding together is more important than responsibilities. His father denies, and loves, and does what he can to help his son to do something silly and improbable and somehow deeply important. If you’re looking for a novel that is honest and moving, this is one to find.
Modern kids’ and YA fiction doesn’t go easy on its readers. Some of the best books out there look honestly at topics as real and raw as war, racial injustice, and poverty, giving readers a safe space to engage deeply with these topics, and guidance to help them understand and respond in healthy, constructive ways. This week’s Ten highlights stories about loss and grief. Though the stories are sometimes painful to read, they almost always end with hope: in friendship, memory, and new things to come.
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
Caitlin’s brother, Devon, used to help her understand how things worked and what she was supposed to do. A handy thing when you have Asperger’s, and a lot of what people do (and expect) really doesn’t make sense. But Devon was killed in a school shooting, and with their dad turning his back on the world in an attempt to cope, Caitlin’s left pretty much on her own to figure things out. A counselor at school helps some, and so does her friendship with a younger boy she meets at recess. But Caitlin wants closure, and she’s going to have to find it for herself. Continue reading →
Daisy doesn’t exactly get along with her new stepmother. When an expected stepsibling only increases the tension between them, her father decides that a bit of distance would be a good thing, and packs Daisy off to live with her maternal aunt’s family in England. Though Aunt Penn and her four children are strangers to Daisy, they soon feel more like family, and their farm more like home, than anything else ever has. And then there’s cousin Edmond, who feels like something else entirely almost from the beginning.
When the threat of war becomes a real occupation while Aunt Penn is in Oslo trying to champion peace, the five cousins are at first thrilled to be parent-free. It turns out that the farm is needed for the war effort, though, and it isn’t long before the house is filled with soldiers, and the children are separated and billeted with families miles apart. Daisy and nine-year-old Piper are determined to find the others, even if it means setting out alone across an increasingly-violent, occupied English countryside. But while they’ve gathered enough hints to figure out where the boys have been placed, bringing their family back together is going to take far more from both girls than they can possibly guess.
How I Live Now is not a comfortable read. Between Daisy’s passionate romance with her cousin, the tension and violence of the war, and considerable risks involved in Daisy and Piper’s efforts to find the rest of Daisy’s cousins, readers are unlikely to get through this book without questioning both their own beliefs and the shape and path of the society in which they live. The book is also stunning — well structured, artfully populated, and beautifully strange. Recommended for teens open to a thoughtful, if occasionally intense, read.
The Boy In The Dress is television comedian Walliams’ first book.
The story is about Dennis, a twelve-year-old soccer lover, who lives with his older brother John, and their father, who resorts to eating to cope with his divorce from the boys’ mother. Dennis finds interest in women’s fashion and comfort in his mother’s old clothing, and it is here that he discovers that he enjoys cross-dressing. He remains shy and wary of sharing this discovery with his family and friends until his father catches him with a copy of Vogue. His father is outraged, and his brother calls him “Denise.”
He meets school idol Lisa Jane, and becomes friends with her when he is given detention as a result of a misguided kick. She convinces him to dress up in a wig and dress, and when he passes unnoticed as exchange student “Denise” at a local corner store, he decides, after much contemplation, to attend school dressed as a girl. While he does a good job of convincing many schoolmates, his cover does not last. When a soccer ball passes by him he can’t resist the urge to kick the ball. His wig falls off and his worst nightmare comes true as he humiliates himself in front of the whole school. On top of everything, he is expelled from the school. Just when it seems things are going all askew, the author adds a little twist, bringing a nice closure to the story.
I came upon this book quite randomly when the red cover caught my eye. Though quite thick, the white space and short chapters made it even more appealing. It is a good book that addresses some questions such as what it means to be different, and accepting who you are. While there were some moments that the story slows, and the UK monetary terms can be a little confusing, it is a book that I am glad to have come upon and can recommend as one that may help readers to manage some of the trepidation associated with being different.
Along with all their other powers, stories can have considerable influence on our moods. Whether you’re looking for something that reflects your current mood, or something that will change it, sometimes a good story is just the thing. The challenge is in knowing what book to pull off the shelf. You probably have a few reliable favourites for such purposes — I know I do! This week’s Ten focuses on picture books for their simplicity of focus, but I think most will appeal to readers of any age.
When you’re feeling disgusted by injustice The Paper Bag Princess written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko
When a dragon burns down Princess Elizabeth’s castle and kidnaps the prince she was supposed to marry, she picks herself up, puts on the only thing left to wear (a paper bag), and sets off to correct the dragon and retrieve her prince. Whether Prince Ronald is worth keeping around post-rescue does nothing to diminish the value of Princess Elizabeth’s take-charge heroism. Continue reading →
A journey requires something special of the participant. Separated from the familiarity and habits of home life, a person on a journey generally finds that the things that can’t be left behind — all the fears and doubts and weaknesses and, yes, strengths and joys and passions — come into sharper focus. The characters in this week’s Ten set out for various reasons, but each is faced with him or herself. What they learn about themselves, and what they do with that information, is a big part of what makes each story worth reading.
The Moon by Night by Madeleine L’Engle
Before they move to the city for a year for their father’s research, the Austin family spends the summer camping their way across the United States, offering both a bonding time for the family, and something of a journey of self discovery for the protagonist, fourteen-year-old Vicky.