Since my previous post My Bookshelf was so immensely popular, I thought I would continue with some of my favourite books on my teen fiction shelves. As a child I read such titles as Anne of Green Gables, The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew (didn’t every girl back then?), Heidi, Little Women, Wizard of Oz, The Yearling, Chronicles of Narnia, among many others. These titles I still have on my shelves, treasured tomes that saw me through many late night adventures – and because I am a pack rat and never throw good books away! Most of the books I read as a child were written by British or American authors. The only Canadian author among those mentioned was Lucy Maud Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables). In the last couple of decades, the field has exploded. Canadian publishers have seen the need to make more fiction available to our youngsters with relative content, local content and historical content.
Margaret Lawrence’s story, The Olden Days Coat, was one of the first Canadian authors I read as an adult. This particular story is dear to my heart because it involves traveling back in time. This was a book I used when I was student teaching. I think it helped to spark the students’ imagination.
When I actually started writing for children, I was very interested in what other children and teen fiction novelists were writing, so I checked out the competition. Here is a selection of some of my favourites in the field:
Let’s start with Carol Matas, who was one of the first authors I checked out because the main setting for her books was Nazi Germany. Her characters were Jews trying to escape the tyranny of the time. Growing up in a primarily Jewish neighbourhood, I could relate to those children, imagining them to be my friends with all the trials & tribulations that they would have gone through had they been born into that tumultuous time. Footsteps in the Snowwas a book she wrote for the Canadian Diaries series, depicting life in our early colonial days. Carol easily draws in her reader and holds them captive with every page. Her books are hard to put down once you start.
Eva Wiseman’s books are similar. Both authors deal with the Jewish life during the second world war. A Place Not Home was about a family who managed to escape Nazi Germany and relocated to a Canadian city. My Canary Yellow Staris about how a Jewish family is helped by the Swedish man Raoul Wallenberg, who protected many Jewish families against the Nazis. Eva is from Hungary and lived through that difficult time, so her subject matter, although fiction, is very close to her real life adventures.
Martha Brooks’ characters are set in a more contemporary time. They depict the angst and turmoil of teenage life. Her characters are all relatable and despite their rough edges, become people who you’d want to be your friends.
Anita Daher is a fabulous writer who is so versatile in her work. She can write for almost any age of child. Her stories are interesting and some of her books are written so that even the most reluctant reader would be drawn into her worlds. My favourite so far, though, is Spider’s Song (I could not find my copy to photograph. I must have leant it out). Set in Yellowknife in the Yukon Territory, the story is current, dealing with internet chatting – a warning that people are not always who they pretend to be on-line. It also deals with the disturbing subject of ‘cutting’. This was the first time I had heard about it and I thought she dealt with the complexities of it very well. Oh, another reason why I think she is an awesome writer – she was the editor of my second book, Spirit Quest!
Eric Wilson writes adventures set in Canadian cities. I chose to read The Prairie Dog Conspiracybecause the Prairie Dog Central is an old steam-powered train that used to travel the tracks behind the house where I grew up. It generally only travels during the summer for excursions out to Grand Prairie, Manitoba. Occasionally, it hosts a murder mystery evening. As a child, my parents booked a Christmas excursion for us where Santa hopped on-board and handed out candy to the passengers. Anyway, Eric’s books would appeal to those boys who resist reading. The stories are engaging, easy to read and not very long.
I was only recently introduced to Martine Leavitt. This story, Tom Finder, deals with a boy who has no memory of who he is. Tom does not know where his home is. He quickly learns how to live on the mean streets, who to trust, who to be wary of, how to get food and make enough money to get home, wherever that is. It is a touching story and explores a tough subject, but she does it very well.
During the Thin Air Writer’s Festival here in Winnipeg last fall, I came across a wonderful children’s writer, Marty Chan. He spoke to a group of third grade students about his books. Wow! Was he ever dynamic! He could really relate to the kids and got them involved with storytelling. He had students up on stage acting out a scenario suggested by his audience. I HAD to pick up one of his books to read it. As luck would have it, I picked up Barnabas Bigfoot. Ironically, my writer’s group and I were discussing what might be the latest FAD in books/movies since we thought that the whole vampire genre was becoming passe. We agreed that the Sasquatch would be the next big thing, so here we have Barnabas. As with his personal appearances, Marty injects a lot of humour into his writing. The kids who attended This Air had read other of his books, so that is a pretty good endorsement. Kids like his work. The stories are not long, easy to read and enjoyable.
How many of you liked the Harry Potter series? How many wish there was a Hogwart’s Academy in their own home town? Well, Rae Bridgman wrote a series of books with just you in mind. Although it really has nothing to do with Harry Potter, her stories do take place in a magical town somewhere in the heart of downtown Winnipeg where a chartered bus can pass through an apparently solid brick wall to enter. Her books are published by the same company that published my books, Great Plains Publications, so of course I had to read them. Rae is a multi-talented woman who not only can write engaging stories but she also creates some of the images found on her novel covers. She is a fantastic artist. Even her signature has an artistic flare to it, incorporating bugs and dragonflies. Her books contain all the ingredients for a great read; adventure, intrigue, magic and local settings. They were all fun to read. Although Gary Paulsen is not a Canadian author, he does write to appeal to the reluctant reader. His books are full of adventure and easy to read. Hatchet, and the other books in the series, appealed to the Girl Guide in me. It made me sit back and wonder whether I would have survived as well as his character, if all I had was a hatchet to cut wood for a fire. Gary’s books are used in the classroom as well, so that is why I thought I would mention them. Finally, if I might give a plug to two friends, both in my writer’s group.
K. C. Oliver was published long before I was. She managed to find an American publisher to produce her first novel, Pretty, Pretty, a mystery in the tradition of Nancy Drew. Unfortunately, her publisher was small and she was not readily able to bring her books across the border to the local markets. She was forced to do a lot of self promotion. You can find out more about KC in her blog (see blogroll below)
Chris Rutkowski has been writing since high school and has numerous UFO books under his belt, as I mentioned in my last bookcase post. One of the books I did not mention last time was his Big Book of UFOs. This is one of those coffee table or bathroom reader books that have tons of trivia about UFOs and Aliens, both real and in fictional. Some of the topics covered are ‘Life In The Universe’, ‘UFO Sightings’, ‘Contact’, and ‘UFOs and Society’. The factual information is presented in chunks with trivia interspersed, such as ’10 Things Often Misidentified as UFOs’. If you are the least bit interested in the subject, I recommend this book as it is pretty comprehensive. Well, I guess that’s it for now. There are tons more books on my shelves but I just presented the highlights. Maybe later, I will show you all the books on my research shelves.