The Next Chapter children's book panel: 12 great summer book recommendations for young readers
Twice a year, we check in with our children's book panel for suggestions on titles for kids and young adults — once at Christmas and also before summer break.
The Next Chapter panellists Michele Landsberg, Ken Setterington and Bee Quammie recommend 12 books to suit the tastes of every young reader this summer!
Unravel by Sharon Jennings
Ken: "It's a survival story of a young girl who's 12, who is being home-schooled. She lives with her father, Joe, who doesn't allow her to have any friends. She's not allowed to have a library card because then she'd have an ID and they don't have any identification.
"It's a powerful story of a young girl with no friends, no family, no photos, no possessions. Her life begins to unravel with her father — until she moves to an apartment and meets a woman who is hiding away from her own demons.
"The woman helps the girl find her way out of this horrible life."
Gone to the Woods by Gary Paulsen
Michele: "This is a riveting read for kids ages 10 and up. It's a true story of Gary Paulson's own life. He's a famous writer who writes survival-type adventures in nature. He grew up with an abusive single mother around the time of the Second World War.
"His grandmother insists that he be sent off to relatives who will take better care of this child. At five, he's put on trains to travel a thousand miles, all alone, to northern Minnesota. The trains packed with wounded soldiers and his experiences on that train are recalled in very sharp detail.
"When he gets to the farm, where his relatives live, he's transformed by a love for nature and books. It's written so vividly all the way through. This is a memoir I would urge kids to read."
The Case of the Girl who had to be Perfectly Perfect by Lisa Lallouz and Suzanne Coy, illustrated by Gary Wein
Bee: "It's one of a series of books called Miss Bonita and Friends. Miss Bonita is a character who meets different characters and gives readers different lessons on life and different ways to be in the world.
"The unique thing about this particular book is that it's based on the story of Dr. Jean Augustine, Canada's first female Black MP, who is a notable woman in Canadian politics and just Canadian history in general. This book helps kids to understand you don't have to be perfect and that nobody in the world is perfect — you just do your best.
"It's a great way to learn Canadian history and learn about important Black Canadians. It has a relevant lesson for kids."
Ken: "It's a photographic board book. It's got photos of moms and their babies, dads and their babies. They're all from different cultures and it's in a variety of languages.
"The photos are wonderful. It's a perfect board book which celebrates that we're all the same."
Wishes by Mượn Thị Văn, illustrated by Victo Ngai
Michele: "It's the story of a little girl and her family escaping as refugees from Vietnam. My words can't evoke how beautiful and tender this book is and how special these illustrations are.
"I would urge people that if you want your child to understand about the migrant situation, the feelings of people who have to flee their home, this is the kind of book. This book is not a didactic, preachy one."
Bee: "This book is so amazing and beautiful. It tells the story of a young girl named Malaika. She lives in the Caribbean with her mother. After her mother marries a French Canadian man, he brings his own daughter named Adele, to the island where Malaika meets her for the first time.
"The newly blended family moves from the Caribbean to Quebec in the middle of winter. They end up going to the Winter Carnival. It's a great book for kids who might be newcomers, but also children who are born and raised in Canada. It shows how they can be good supports to other children who might be having a hard time adjusting to a new life."
Ken: "It's about a young boy who is 13 years old. He lives across the street from an old man who has a house full of mirrors. The old man was best friends with his grandfather, who is now dead.
"There's a mirror on the wall and it has very bizarre images when he looks into it — and the mirror seems to come to life. It's a great and eerie book. It's beautifully written."
Tough Like Mum by Lana Button, illustrated by Carmen Mok
Michele: "This has beautiful, spare illustrations that almost evoke the threadbare existence that this little girl and her mom are living.
"The mother is a waitress and she is tough so she can make it through these circumstances. Their electricity at home has been turned off — but Kim, the little girl, is also tough. When her mom doesn't want to get out of bed and make breakfast as usual. Kim comes to the rescue.
"There's something so charming about it because we're not pitying these two people. We're admiring them and participating with them."
Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart
Bee: "It's a novel about two young witches. They've been raised to be sworn enemies. However, they have to come together and use that partnership to take down this enemy.
"This book is based on an island called Aiyca, which is a term or a name that has come from the original Indigenous name of Jamaica. It's Jamaican-based, but set in this whole new mystical world with a foundation of West African spirituality.
"You get to see this representation of Black and brown people being centre stage — and not side characters — in a fantasy world."
This is Ruby by Sara O'Leary, illustrated by Alea Marley
Ken: "It's a book about a young girl and the book opens with the statement: 'This is Ruby. She's so glad to see you. She can't wait to share her day with you. Would you like to see her room?'
"There's this engaging little kid. It's a lot of fun and the questions get kids involved in reading of the book."
Amber and Clay by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Julia Iredale
Michele: "This is a whopper of a novel set in ancient Greece. Rhaskos is an enslaved child who is talented at art, but captive to a cruel owner.
"It has philosophy, poetry, even photographs of archeological objects which weave their way into the story. It's a remarkable and unusual novel."
Sugar Cane by Patricia Storace, illustrated by Raul Colon
Bee: "This is a new take on the traditional Rapunzel story, but from the perspective of a young Caribbean girl named Sugar Cane who has long, beautiful hair. My favourite thing about this book are the illustrations by Raul Colon.
"They're so dreamy, very Salvador Dali-esque. Just a beautiful, beautiful book with a beautiful story."
The panellists' comments have been edited for length and clarity.