Most nights at bedtime I read to Maggie (10) and Seth (9). Some books because they’re fun. Some because they’re classics. Others because they speak to things we care about. Here are my favourite chapter books from 2014.
Top honours goes to Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Wonder-fully drawn characters populate a middle school where the new kid in Fifth Grade has a uniquely formed face. A beautiful story of the fear of difference and the power of friendship, unsentimentally told.
Another story told in beautiful, clear-eyed fashion is The Birchbark House, detailing the struggles that Omakayas, a young Ojibwan girl, and her family face during one year of the mid-nineteenth century.
Savvy is the delightful and insightful tale of the Beaumont family, whose members develop a super-power on their thirteenth birthday, and then spend their adolescence learning to control it. On the eve of her birthday, Mibs Beaumont’s father is involved in a terrible car crash, and she is desperate for her ‘savvy’ to be one that can save him. Humorous chaos ensues as she tries to get to the hospital where he is being treated.
2014 marked the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of “The War to End All Wars” and we read a bunch of books about what would come to be called World War I. My favourite work of fiction was War Horse by Michael Morpungo. A moving account of the darkness and madness of trench warfare, accessible for young kids, while resisting the temptation for a sappy ending.
We followed this with a story set in World War II, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. The story of Bruno, a 9 year old whose father makes the family move from their home in Berlin to become the Commander of “Out With,” a special camp with a wire fence, through which Bruno befriends a young boy, and where he intuits that he should keep their visits a secret from his father. A stunning achievement, the Shoah portrayed through the eyes of a naive little boy.
Where the Red Fern Grows is Wilson Rawls’ story of a young boy growing up poverty-stricken in the Ozarks with his 2 red coonhounds, Old Dan and Little Ann. Love and adventure, hardship and tragedy, another beautiful and unflinching story.
Finally, there was The Cay by Theodore Taylor. Another story set in World War II, this time in the Caribbean, where young Philip’s ship home to the U.S. is torpedoed by a U-Boat, and he finds himself blinded and stranded on a small cay with an elderly black man and a cat. A classic story of survival, and a gentle exploration of racism that Maggie and Seth thought was “outrageous good.”
Up next: Best Books of 2014 – non-fiction.
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