It is always tricky to help people find the right books. But the trickiest age group by far is the tweens. It is an age that is sandwiched between two categories, not quite fitting in anywhere. They are too old for juvenile books but not quite ready to dive into teenage content. That’s why the Red Maple nominees are such a fantastic resource. It is a list of ten books geared for grades seven to nine and is part of the Forest of Reading program. The nominees cover a wide range of genres and interests. Here are three of my favourites from this year’s list.
There are eight houses in the kingdom of the Bear Highen. None are more powerful than the House of the Hemoth Bear. It is the strongest of all the High Beasts and rules unchallenged over the kingdom. Now the time has come for the Hemoth Bear to choose who will inherit the throne. Two sisters each wish to rule but neither has proven themselves capable of wielding true power.
A series of strategic assassinations plunge the entire kingdom into chaos. The sisters flee into the wilderness, along with the Hemoth Bear. Desperate, they call upon the aid of the lesser houses of the kingdom to outwit their enemies. What follows is an interconnecting set of plotlines that each bring a different perspective to the narrative. The Bear House is not just a story, rather it is an entire world complete with its own complex history, mythology, and politics. This is perfect for young readers that are looking for a complex story but aren’t ready to tackle adult fantasy.
Evie has a unique dream. She wants to be a funeral director. While some kids dream about becoming famous, Evie aspires to help grieving families. Her family runs a Jewish funeral home. All her life she’s watched her parents organize funerals. She knows how important it is, but the kids at school think it is creepy. Being around dead bodies, caskets and graveyards doesn’t make Evie very popular.
One day, a boy named Oren arrives at the funeral home. He was in a car accident and lost both his parents. Traumatized and grief-stricken, he refuses to speak to anyone. Evie is determined to help Oren through his grief and prove she has what it takes to be a funeral director.
The story does an excellent job of balancing tough subject matter like grief with underlying narratives of compassion and empathy. Although it has its sad parts, Sorry for Your Loss is a book full of love and healing.
Sami’s mother just died. Which is strange because Sami thought she died a long time ago. It turns out, her grandfather has kept a lot of her past hidden from her. She came to live with him when she was very young. He’s not an easy person to live with and Sami has learned it’s better to be useful than unhappy. And it helps that she has great friends. Friends that don’t care that her grandfather used to have a drinking problem.
The story covers an eight-day period in Sami’s life. It begins the day she finds out her mother died and covers the journey to her mother’s town, her funeral, and its aftermath. It unpacks complicated subject matter in a way that is understandable to a tween. There are also humorous moments to the story which balances out the tough subject matter. It is an excellent character-driven story that illustrates how addiction impacts families through the generations.
The other nominees in the Red Maple category include: