The Next Chapter summer children's book panel: 8 great book recommendations for young readers

Michele Landsberg and Ken Setterington share their favourite children's literature of the year so far, from YA to middle-grade reads and picture books.
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The children's book panel with Michele Landsberg and Ken Setterington is a long-standing tradition at The Next Chapter. In the summer edition of this semi-annual feature, our trusty panellists recommend eight books to suit the tastes of every young reader.

Becca Fair and Foul by Deirdre Baker

Deirdre Baker is a children's author in Toronto. (Jennifer Armstrong/Groundwood Books)

Michelle says: "Deirdre is a friend of mine and this is a glorious novel. Becca is an 11-year-old girl visiting her grandma for the summer on Hornby Island. She's longing for a good sailboat to go on adventures — instead of the old clangy aluminum boat her gran has — so she and her best friend Jane decide they're going to put on a play to raise money for a new sailboat. Jane's read a play in school that has boats and an island and it's called The Tempest. Very cleverly and subtly throughout this novel, the play is revealed to the reader in bits and tantalizing snippets. Tremendously funny dialogue and the energy of it carries the book forward. The prose is just sparkling." (For middle-grade readers)

The Funeral by Matt James

Matt James is a children's writer and illustrator. (Groundwood Books)

Ken says: "The book is about a little girl named Norma. There's a phone call, as these things usually happen, and Norma discovers that her great uncle is dead and she has to go to the funeral with her mom. The big plus is she gets to see her cousin Ray, but she knows she has to do a few things like practicing her sad face. She's a young child and when they're in the car, she's trying to read the banner on the car. It says 'funeral,' but she's spelling it out and just gets to the 'fun' part. Matt James has illustrated many books, but this is the first book he's written and it's a treat. After the funeral, when everyone is eating their little sandwiches, the two kids are urged to go outside and they're playing in the field and the art captures the joy of these two kids being in nature. This is a book that anyone would enjoy." (For ages 4 and up)

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

Christopher Paul Curtis wrote The Journey of Little Charlie, a middle-school adventure novel. (Arden Wray/Scholastic Canada)

Michele says: "My other top novel for sheer joy of reading and depth is The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis. Little Charlie is a whopping 12-year-old, over six feet tall. He's a sharecropper kid in the south growing up in the era of 19th century poverty and ignorance. His parents die and he falls prey to the overseer from the slave plantation near by and this cruel guy nabs Charlie and forces him to go with him north to retrieve what he says is $4,000 worth stolen from the master, but it's $4,000 worth of human beings. Charlie doesn't realize that. It's a wonderful read. Very illuminating for kids in this day and age." (For ages 9-12)

Here So Far Away by Hadley Dyer

Hadley Dyer is a YA author from Toronto. (hadleydyer.com)

Ken says: "We've got this girl, George Warren. She's 17 and a half, and she is a strong kid, bright kid, and the book is the life of a teen in a small town. Her father was a sergeant with the RCMP, but due to an accident, he's lost his foot. He's at home all the time and he's not doing all that well.

"George ends up going out and kissing this guy who's a really lousy kisser. In order to break that spell, she meets a stranger and she actually gives him a kiss and sparks fly. She doesn't know it at the time, but he is the new officer who is coming into town and he's actually 29. This could get him fired. This is drama as only a teen novel can explore, but this is so well done. It's a powerful book. I've read it twice and I certainly couldn't put it down either time." (For teens)

Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell is a Caldecott Medal winner. (Twitter.com/Feiwel & Friends)

Michele says: "There's a little girl bundled up in a very evocative red outfit and hood and she goes off to school waving goodbye to her doggy. When she goes to school, it's snowing. When she comes out, the snow is thick and fast. She comes across a lost wolf pup and she hears the pack howling in the distance. She has the courage to take this pup and return it to its pack with great effort. In the end, the pack saves her from freezing in this storm. It's a lovely wordless story about a little girl's courage." (For ages 3 to 7)

Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall

Sophie Blackall is an award-winning illustrator and children's writer. (Hachette)

Michele says: "Hello Lighthouse is a beautiful, elegantly illustrated book by Sophie Blackall about the life of the lighthouse. There are pictures of the ocean surging up around the sturdy lighthouse and the lighthouse keeper who has this wife and a baby. They live in isolation but with great dedication until it's closed down in favour of an automated light. It's a beautiful and evocative book about the life of the oceans and of lighthouses." (For ages 4 to 8)

Eat This! by Andrea Curtis, illustrated by Peggy Collins

Andrea Curtis is a Canadian writer of YA and adult fiction. (Joanna Haughton/andreacurtiskids.ca)

Ken says: "This is a nonfiction book about how fast food marketing gets you to buy junk and how to fight back. It's got so many interesting facts. For instance, it talks about product placement and it suggests sitting down with a bunch of other kids, watching something and seeing how many products you can count that have been placed. It's fun." (For ages 9 and up)

Don't Tell the Enemy by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch is the author of the middle school story Don't Tell the Enemy. (Scholastic Canada)

Ken says: "It's a Second World War story set in the Ukraine. I knew nothing about the Ukraine and it's heartbreaking and exciting. It's about how the Soviets are replaced by the Nazis and they think it's going to be better — and it's worse." (For readers 10 to 14)

Michele Landsberg and Ken Setterington's comments have been edited and condensed.