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Letters & Lists:

Favourite Young Adult Books

Kathy Gregg: "The Summer of My German Soldier" by Bette Green
I was a small town librarian in Northern Ontario when I came across this marvelous YA book. Written in 1973, it was set in the small town  American South during the Second World War. Patty Bergen is 12, older sister of two in a Jewish household with a raging abusive father, and a narcissistic mother who has only eyes for the pretty younger sister. Patty befriends an escaped German soldier - Patty steps beyond the pale...the book does a remarkable job of delving into race, class, being Jewish - in some ways, the touching story of Ruth Hughes, the household maid and Patty's only emotional support in the household anticipates the themes explored in the the movie "The Help".  This is a must read.

Dominique Mongeau: "The Knife of Never Letting Go" by Patrick Ness.
It is the first of a series of three books that features heady themes such as war, racism, and sexism, all set in a fictional planet with aliens, men and a strange lack of women. Oh, I forgot to mention - it also has a talking dog! Intrigued? I couldn't put it down and went on to read all three books to the satisfying end.

Ann Marie from Nanaimo: "Warriors" by Erin Hunter
I am in my early 60s and have been reading Erin Hunter's book series called Warriors for several years - it is about 4 cat Clans who live in the wilds. It begins when Rusty the "kittypet" who discovers a whole new world of cat tribes in the forest behind his house. Eventually he is taken in and becomes the Warrior leader of Thunderclan. I am a cat lover and Erin Hunter's books have no human characters - the cats lives and tribal rituals are compelling, endearing & mystical. You can tell the author is steeped in cat knowledge. I have felt "different" for reading youth books at my age so it was terrific to hear you both discussing this issue today. There are many book clubs in my area and when I am invited to join I ask if they would consider reading youth fantasy like Warriors. The invite usually stalls there. Thank you for the interview with Erin Bow - it has opened up my fantasy world to more adventuresome reading.

(Stella) Heather Smith: "Are you there God, it's me Margaret!" by Judy Blume
Hands down, my heroine and paradigm challenger was Judy Blume. "Are you there God, it's me Margaret!", encouraged me down a path of critical thinking and pushed my very parochial views of the world, while engaging my interest and answering some of my own questions, that I was unable to ask. When  I read her books I felt as though I was being mentored, understood and encouraged by a caring big-sister, or a well loved and trusted friend, whom otherwise was abjectly absent in my childhood.

Kate Soles: "The Cardturner" by Louis Sachar
The most surprisingly excellent young adult novel I've read recently is Louis Sachar's "The Cardturner" about a boy who learns to play bridge. Really? A novel for teens about the intricacies and strategies of bridge? The story of a boy who turns cards for his uncle sounds like a recipe for sheer boredom yet this tale is comic, engaging and wise beyond expectation. 
Narrator and protagonist Alton Richards, his quirky uncle Lester, his level-headed sister Leslie and a host of other characters are all dealt (pun intended!) tragedy and joy, sorrow and laughter, resulting in a philosophical and complex cast. Furthermore, issues of sexism, domestic violence, romance and religion weave into an intriguing plot filled with family secrets. 
The Cardturner draws the reader into a passionate world of excitement and intelligence, one in which the conventionally tedious becomes a clever depiction of strategy, relationship and maybe even the meaning of life.

Patricia Fannagan: "Tomorrow, When the War Began" by John Marsden
A group of teens returned from "Hell" a hidden camping spot, to find foreign soldiers had overun their homes and had put their parents and friends in a concentration camp in the nearest town. The action procedes from there. What would you do? How would you react?  How far would you go to defend your family, home and country? 


Tanis Wilke: "Hunger Journeys" by Maggie DeVries
It is a superb tale, based in fact, about a young woman's experiences in WWII Holland. DeVries has deftly woven her family's stories and her great imagination together, into a powerful and captivating book that carries the reader along like the trains at the heart of the journey. We are drawn closely in to a teenager's harsh awakening to Hitler's dark reality, and her valiant attempts to help her family survive starvation. It is an excellent portrayal of a horrific time, beautifully captured in a colourful portrait of a young person's innocent mindset.

Helen Piddington: "Taash and the Jesters" by Ellen Kindt McKenzie
When my daughter was 4 months old I met an interesting Polish woman with two beautiful children & they insisted on giving her a copy of their favourite book: "Taash and the Jesters" by Ellen Kindt McKenzie. Do you know it? I found it both terrifying and fascinating. So did my two.

Sharon Jackson: "The Wolves of Willoughby Chase" by Joan Aiken
Takes place in a fictitious Britain 1832. Bonnie's parents are taking a holiday touring the Mediterranean by ship, leaving her in the care of a distant fourth cousin, Letitia Slighcarp. Also due to arrive is Bonnie's orphan cousin Sylvia, who lived in London with Sir Willoughby's impoverished older sister Jane, coming to keep her cousin company in her parents' absence.
The girls soon learn that the blissful existence they anticipate together is not to last. With the help of Mr. Grimshaw, a mysterious man from the train, Miss Slighcarp takes over the household, dismissing all but the most untrustworthy household servants, wearing Lady Green's gowns, and tampering with Sir Willoughby's legal papers. Bonnie and Sylvia also overhear ominous hints about their parents' ship, which has sunk, perhaps intentionally.
The countryside is overrun with wolves and there is a wonderful chase across the snow with the wolves closing in that still has me shivering! It all ends happily with the clever girls tricking the evil villains into admitting their wrongdoings.

Sharon Jackson: "The Ship That Flew" by Hilda Lewis
Peter walks into the village one day to go to the dentist with some of his own money and some of his father's. He finds a little lane which he has never seen before and in it is an antique store with a little Viking Ship in the window. The one-eyed shop keeper (who is Odin in disguise) tells him it will cost him all the money he has in the world and a little bit more. So he buys it with his own money plus part of his father's money. He leaves the shop and then no longer can find the lane. On the way home, he is caught by a swiftly rising tide and fears he will drown. He says, "If only this ship could carry me to safety!" And sure enough, the ship grew big enough to carry him floating through the air to his home, where it shrinks into his pocket again. He and his brothers and sisters have many adventures in the flying boat, including going back in time to Norman England. I keep this book on my bookshelf right next to a little Viking Ship I found and when my granddaughter is old enough, I am going to give them both to her.

Tannis Fisher: "The Star of Kazan" by Eva Ibbotson
The heroine is a young woman, Annika, who lives in Vienna. Annika begins her life as a foundling and is raised in a delightful home with three eccentric professors and two loving housekeepers. Her life changes dramatically when the mystery of her birth begins and adventures follow. I fully entered in to this vivid story and would love to have been in the kitchen of her childhood, eating warm apple strudel surrounded by the love of her adoptive family and friends. You get a taste of the life of Viennese aristocrats and the joys and tribulations of simple hard working people, as well as a great read. Eva Ibbotson also wrote the award winning, "Journey to the River Sea", which I now very much want to read as well.

Ruth Nelson: "A Girl of Limberlost" by Gene Stratton-Porter (1909)
It is a fascinating story about Elnora, a girl who is determined to get an education despite a difficult home situation and a mother who seems not to love her. She braves ridicule and teasing when she goes to the high school in town and continues to pay for her own education by capturing and selling moths and cocoons that she finds in the swamps around her home. There is the mystery of her father's death and her mother's lifelong bitterness and anger
towards her only child. And the kindness of a childless couple who live nearby and give Elnora the love that she so sorely needs. Elnora's huge heart and loving nature carry her through all the difficulties she encounters. The descriptions of the beautiful woodlands and swamps of the
Limberlost in Indiana are fascinating.

Ruth Nelson: "Mrs. Mike" by Nancy and Benedict Freedman.
Is a true story of Katherine Mary O'Fallon who travels to southern Alberta from Boston in the early 1900's. She meets her husband Mike, a Mounted Police officer and their life in Northern Alberta and British Columbia is described in colourful detail. There is tragedy and triumph and humour as they work with the natives and the early settlers who people the small settlements where Mike is posted. The book was written by Nancy and Benedict Freedman, as told to them by Kathy in her later years. My mother introduced me to these books in the early 60's and I have loaned them to many friends over the years. My own daughter also loved these books as she was growing up, and I'm hoping her new little daughter will one day read them too.

Nina Dickins: "The Book Thief" by Marcus Zuzak.
The setting is a small town in Germany during the second World War; the protagonist a young girl who steals books from the mayor's wife. She has a very special friendship with a neighbourhood boy......written very convincingly I felt. As I am a contemporary of that young girl I really related to the book. I was going through many of the things she went through only on the other side of the English Channel!

Ashley Blacquiere: "The Dark is Rising" by Susan Cooper.
Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence was one of my favourites growing up. It was written in the '60's so I suspect it's been largely forgotten by now (in spite of a relatively unsuccessful Hollywood adaption of the second book in the sequence a couple years back). It has all the necessary elements to compete with today's YA fiction: The protagonists are kids doing unexpected and very adult things; there are mysteries to be solved and unknown country to be explored; and, of course, there is magic. What I love most about this series though is that it's securely grounded in some well-known western myths, in particular of King Arthur, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table. It's a world that kids - and adults - can easily understand and relate to, and in some way helps us better understand the history and myths that helped shape our culture today. Susan Cooper's world is our own, but acknowledges the mystery and wonder of ages past - of magic lost, and of birthrights forgotten. At least, until the Dark comes rising once again...

Sheila Graham:
I belong to a Book Club of secondary English teachers who read only current YA fiction for our discussions.  Recent titles include Rot and Ruin by Maberry, Incarceron by Fisher, and Unwind by Shusterman.  Our original purpose was to read titles we could recommend to our students, and to discuss the use of the books in our instructional practice. However, we have all come to love YA fiction for the enjoyment we gain from reading it. As one of our members said, "I'm not going back. I've found books I love to read."

Ruth Tubbesing: "Winne the Pooh" by A. A. Milne.
For me two favourites come to mind immediately in literature for young people are Anne of Green Gables and Winnie the Pooh, and since I should choose one, it is Winnie. The magic of animal characters, their "personalities" and weaknesses that portray our own so much, the simplicity of the original illustrations, always delight me. I Recently I saw a movie of the real story of Winnie, the orphaned cub saved by a soldier in the Winnipeg area, smuggled to Britain, and how things evolved was so incredible and heart warming:: the basis of A.A. Milne's story. Winnie the Pooh is always worth a reread.

Janis McKenzie: "Blue Fairy Book" by Andrew Lang
I've been thinking about this since you put out the call yesterday. I read a lot as a kid, and read a lot of young adult until I was about thirteen or fourteen. But once I hit that age, most of us were reading adult books (mainly bestsellers like Stephen King and Danielle Steele). The bit of "literary" reading that I (re)discovered at that point -- and it was something I didn't want people to know about at the time -- was fairy tales. My favourite was Andrew Lang's Blue Fairy Book. It included some of the best-known stories (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood), but the real treasures were the dark tales I'd never heard of, and that certainly hadn't been made into Disney movies. These tales didn't make much sense, they followed a kind of dream logic, and they were intensely thrilling. My favourite was "The Master Maid," about a young woman who fends off unwanted suitors in creative (and savage!) ways while waiting for her forgetful prince to return. She was so powerful, not at all a passive character. It has been a challenge not to send in a list of favourite books! If I had to name one written for young adults specifically, I'd want to add Ursula Le Guin's Tombs of Atuan, from the Earthsea series. What a great author, what a great book.

Joan Davies:
I am suggesting three books for your list of young adult books. Author Suzanne Fisher Staples wrote a series of books set in the Cholistan Desert of Pakistan (the first was a Newbery Honour Book). The first is "SHABANU, Daughter of the Wind" followed by "HAVELI" and the "HOUSE OF DJINN". Suzanne Fisher Staples worked for years as a correspondent in Asia, including Hong Kong, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, and worked on the foreign news desk at the Washington Post. During her years in Pakistan, she became involved with the nomads of the Cholistan Desert, and said that "it was the unfailing generosity and courage of the people of Cholistan that inspired her to write these books." In the 1990's, I was fortunate to spend about three years in Pakistan when all was serene in that part of our world! A few weeks, full of wonder, were spent in the Cholistan Desert among those kindly, hospitable people and their camels. The author portrays the lives of the desert dwellers "to a T".

Rich Wilson: Freddy the Pig books by Walter R. Brook
As an adolescent, some fifty-five years ago, I had a utopian world I inhabited for several years. While other kids wanted  to become firemen, cowboys or policemen, I wanted to be a pig. Freddy the pig, to be exact, an articulate, down to earth adventurer, entrepreneur, and bon vivant, whether in the farmyard or the world at large, in any one of his many escapades. While largely a series of adventures, they took place in the context of the Bean's farm, where a diverse collection of colourful characters lived in harmony and friendship,from the sensible Mrs. Wiggins (the cow), to the self absorbed Charles the rooster,who would attempt to take over the barn meetings with gusts of oratorial flourish, until brought down to earth by his wife, Henrietta. There was Jinx the cat, a philosophical ant named Jerry Peters who lived in a hill in the farmyard, a much beloved spider couple, the Webbs, who  would make a spider web between the horns of Mrs Wiggins when traveling on an adventure. It was a community of warmth and friendship, of which I became a part.As about a ten year old I started the Commercial Drive news, mirroring Freddy's Beqn Home news, in which I would report neighbourhood events, whose cat had kittens etc. and sell door to door Saturday morning. Freddy would have stories like "Mr. and Mrs. Webb will move next week from their winter headquarters in the Bean parlor to their summer home on the third rafter in the cow barn." Freddy has been described as Everypig- he succumbs to gluttony , laziness, and is messy, but in turn is a  poet, a detective, a magician, and countless other things. These classic books were written from the late twenties to the late fifties by Walter R. Brook and have been for my entire life, part of my brain that is associated with childhood happiness.