25 Sep Mom I’m Bored
This collection of recent novels and standard classics—some of which have been made into movies—was well received by Grade 7-8 students as part of an independent reading program. Besides observing positive role models, students often reacted to the social justice issues embedded in the novel. Although the numbers placed after the title give some indication of approximate grade reading /interest level respectively, teens frequently pick up these novels simply because they are easier reads. The topics for discussion identified provide the means of finding similar themes at different reading levels.
Sutherland, Robert. Death Island. 4-6/4-8.
Mystery stories, some with a Canadian setting. A mysterious death is classified accidental by the police, but our heroes think otherwise. Readers have to pay attention to detail to be able to solve the mystery. Manageable reading for ESL (English as a second language) students. Other titles: Three Can Keep a Secret if Two are Dead. Suddenly a Spy; Son of the Hounds
Eric Wilson series. 4-5/4-8.
Mystery series in a Canadian setting featuring two teens. The plausible solutions can be discovered by a discerning reader. Manageable reading for ESL students.
Stuart, Howard. T-Rex series. 4/4-9.
The mystery stories, featuring a T-rex and two teens, generate suspense at the bottom of each second page so you must read on. Read in the order written.
Wilder, Laura. Let the Hurricane Roar 4/4+ A 17-year-old girl marries in the late 1800’s, but because of a poor crop, her husband has to leave her alone while he finds work to support her. During a blizzard on her prairie farm, she has to make a decision that could cost a life. Topics for discussion: bravery, pioneer life, detachment, work.
Neufeld, John, Edgar Allen 4/ 4+
A black toddler is adopted by a white minister and the family suffers from the resulting discrimination. His eldest daughter has difficulties accepting Edgar into the family, and the KKK get involved. Topics for discussion: prejudice, passive aggressivity in young teens, following your conscience, courage in trials, understanding parents.
Babbitt, Natalie. Tuck Everlasting: 4-5/4+
A young girl discovers a family that cannot die because they have drunk from a magical spring. She is kidnapped and discovers a family life poles apart from her own. Topics for discussion: truth, the value of life, death, order, affections.
St. Exupery, The Little Prince. 4-5/4+
A young boy travels to different planets and wrestles with understanding the people he meets. Topics for discussion: concern for others, detachment, truth, using others for our own benefit, the need to reflect.
Molinos. Alexia 5/5+
The story of a 14-year-old girl who dies from cancer. A must read. Available online through Primary Educators.Topics for discussion: death, the meaning of suffering.
Killilea, Maira. Karen 6/6+
Biography of a young girl with cerebral palsy and her struggle to learn to walk. The novel ends when she turns 16.Topics for discussion: courage, perseverance, making choices, supportive Moms.
With Love from Karen. Written when she is 21, the consequences of some of Karen’s earlier choices are seen.
Hatchet 5/ 5-8. Brian’s plane crashes as he travels to visit his Dad. Equipped only with a hatchet his Mom gave him, Brian has to fend for himself in the wilderness for several weeks. Topics for discussion: denial; self-pity; self-mastery; problem-solving; learning to think out of the box; overcoming fear; discouragement; needing to begin again; mistakes can have a serious effect on us; the right of passage. Neither of the sequels is as well written as the first novel.
Brian’s Winter. The author re-writes the original ending of Hatchet and Brian is lost until he discovers tracks in the snow. The Inuit in the area knew Brian was there but had kept their distance. Topics for discussion: getting involved in other people’s lives; solitude vs. isolation .
Brian Returns. Brian returns with a psychologist so the army can study survival tactics, but problems quickly arise.Topics for discussion: pride of the know-it-all, respecting principles, perseverance, thinking out of the box.
Underground to Canada 6/6+. Historical novel about 3 young blacks who follow the Underground Railroad to escape from the far South into Canada. The historical aspect compensates for non-standard English in the novel.Topics for discussion: leadership, prejudice, risk-taking, suffering, human dignity, value of freedom.
Days of Terror 6/6+ Deals with a Mennonite village suffering persecution during the Russian Revolution. The villagers hope it will die out but others decide to rebel. Topics for discussion: leadership, religious intolerance, prejudice, conscientious objectors, rebels, reasons to change.
Island of the Blue Dolphin. 6/6+. A Robinson Crusoe story line with a heroine. Well written. O’Dell has quite a few novels that appeal to students. Topics for discussion: generosity, love, trust, courage, survival.
Black Star, Bright Dawn. 6/6+ During the annual Klondike dog-sled race across 1500 kilometres of dangerous terrain, a young girl’s endurance, courage and sportsmanship are tested. Topics for Discussion: persevering to the end; helping others; priorities; generosity; a sense of community.
Gardiner, John R. Stone Fox. 4/5+
Good for ESL readers. A young boy enters a dog sled race because he needs the prize money to save his grandfather’s farm and health. Topics for discussion: optimism, tenacity, perseverance. Can be used as a parallel book for O’Dell’sBlack Star, Bright Dawn.
Shakespeare Stealer. 7.5\8+. 1998. 216 pages. Widge is apprenticed to unscrupulous Falconer to copy Shakespeare’s plays on the sly. Topics for discussion: courage, following your conscience, trust, social justice, life in Shakespearean England; women in the theatre. This is an easier read than Cue for Treason. The sequel, Shakespeare’s Scribe, is another well-written novel.
Far North. 7/7+ Similar to Mowat’s Lost in the Barrens (a.k.a .Two Against the North). After a plane crash, two young boys struggle for survival in the Far North. The native boy has all the lore needed for survival but is hurt. The white boy has to struggle to overcome all the difficulties and to put his trust in his new-found friend. Topics for discussion: courage, fortitude, using freedom wisely, respecting other cultures.
Ghost Canoe. 7/7+ 1997. 193 pages. The life and history of the Makah people in northern B. C. are portrayed. Ownership of the lone general store changes hands and the attitude of the new owner to the native people is different. Nathan enters into a close relationship with an old Makah and learns to appreciate his culture. Character development is well treated in this novel. Topics for discussion: the concept of wealth in cultural and monetary terms; determining one’s values in life; parents as minor character helping to advance the plot.
Down River. 8\8+ This novel is not necessarily recommendable unless you are going to discuss it with the young reader afterwards. A group of delinquents is taken white-water rafting as part of their rehabilitation. Leaving their guide behind, they take on the rapids alone. Topics for discussion: danger of rash decisions, consequences, leadership.
Lunn, Janet. The Hollow Tree. 8/8+.
During the American Civil War, a young girl finds a message in a tree that was meant for her recently killed brother. She undertakes a dangerous month-long trip through the woods to find the General mentioned. Topics for discussion: courage; following your conscience; trust; duty, consequences of decisions.
Gilmour, D. Mrs. Pollifax series. 7/8+
A widow, whose children have grown up, offers her services to the CIA. She is supposed to be a simple courier but ends up in complicated events of this humorous spy series. Acceptable titles: The Incredible Mrs. P; Mrs. P and the Hong Kong Buddha; Mrs. P and the Golden Triangle. One of the novels has been made into a movie.
Jacques, Brian. The Redwall Series 7/7+ 350 pages
In Martin the Warrior, Martin has to save the animals living in a medieval monastery from Cluny and his horde of rats. This well-written novel inspired by the Lord of the Rings can be a springboard for writing projects. Topics for discussion: the struggle of good against evil is an ongoing affair; revenge. For avid readers.
Brooks, Terry: The Shannara series 7/7+ 350 pages. A people that are half-elf and half-human struggles against good and evil. This is a longer read but well written. Again this series is modelled on the Lord of the Rings. For avid readers.
Peck, Robert. A Day No Pigs Would Die. 7/7+. The timeless story of a Shaker boy in rural Vermont, his beloved pet pig, and the joys and hardships that mark his passage into manhood. A must-read, although the first 3-4 pages are a little gory. Peck has also written other novels, some of which are a little unusual. Check out titles before suggesting them to others. Topics for discussion: coming of age, doing good for the sake of doing good, the difference supernatural outlook makes; responsibilities within the family; death.
Hesse, Karen. Phoenix Rising. 8/8+
Nyle does not want to get involved with Ezra, a teen guest at her house who is dying as a result of a nuclear accident. Nyle’s grandmother helps Nyle face her fear, but her closest friend Munchkin, cannot understand Nyle’s odd behaviour. The novel deftly demonstrates how Nyle’s behaviour has a negative effect on Munchkin and the heroine, but those awkward situations are a source for growth.
Topics for discussion: different kinds of fear; the risks of sentimentalism; getting hurt emotionally; peer pressure; passive aggressive behaviour.
Reiss, Johanna. The Upstairs Room. 8/8+ Two Jewish sisters are in hiding from the Nazis. It is a story of their confinement and the courage of others who helped them. Topics for discussion: generosity; risk-taking; patience; survival, detachment. This is an alternative to Anne Frank. The Hidden is a sci-fi treatment of the same topic.
Bell, William. Forbidden City. 8/8+.
Historical fiction based on the events in Tiananmen Square. The Dad and the boy have reverse personalities: the Dad is a frivolous, fun-loving photographer; and Alex ponders the pros and cons of his decisions, yet he is understanding of his Dad. Topics for discussion: freedom; possible solutions to difficulties can turn into serious problems; dying for an ideal; using time well; social justice.
Trese, Geoffrey. Cue for Treason. 8.5/8.5+
A young boy is forced to leave home and ends up with Shakespeare. There, a plot to assassinate the Queen is discovered. A great introduction to life in Shakespearean England. The Blackwood novels listed above have similar themes. Topics for discussion: status of women; social justice; life in Shakespearean England; theatre.
Bradbury, Ray. Something Wicked This Way Comes. 8/8+ A magical circus comes to town and a young boy is attracted to it, but his friend is aware of its evil influence. The circus is very powerful: the father tries to protect the boys, but seems to be helpless at the start. Topics for discussion: evil seemingly overpowers good; good triumphs in the end; deception; craving for power; staying away from temptation; the little guy can overcome evil. The movie version is quite faithful to the novel. Other novels by the author: Fahrenheit 451.
Peters, Ellis. House of Green Turf. 8/9+
Well written mystery stories. Superior to Agatha Christie from a literary point of view. Consider other titles by this author.
LeGuin, Ursula. The Eye of the Heron. 9/10+
Two groups have colonized the planet and a class struggle ensues. The truth seekers want to leave to start another colony but the establishment is not willing to lose their cheap labour. Topics for discussion: freedom; truth; a right of association; exploitation; legitimate use of force; how much must you tell others. The novel is more philosophical in approach. Be careful about other titles because some are not recommendable
Ende, Michael. Momo. 8/8+
A young girl from nowhere solves problems by listening. Later, she has to save the world from the time thieves. A must-read. Topics for discussion: use of time, friendship; spending time with the others; truth; trust; materialism.