One of the best programs run by the Ontario Library Association is the Forest of Reading. Every year, the OLA selects 10 books by Canadian authors for each school division(e.g Primary, Junior, Intermediate) to read. Then, once students have read all or most of the ten, they can vote for their favourites. When all of the votes have been collected, the winners are announced at the Festival of Trees in Toronto.
There are 9 different Forest of Reading programs: The Blue Spruce Award, The Silver Birch Express Award, The Silver Birch Fiction Award, The Yellow Cedar Award, The Red Maple Award, the White Pine Award, Le Prix Peuplier, Le Prix Meleze, and Le Prix Tamarac.
In this three-part series, I’ll be reviewing a couple of books from the Forest of Reading Programs that I have the most experience with: Blue Spruce, Silver Birch, and Red Maple. Although there are two types of Silver Birch book selections, Silver Birch Fiction and Silver Birch Express, I have chosen to make this second post about Silver Birch Fiction books.
Silver Birch Fiction books are selected for grades 4-6, and are chapter books with age-appropriate stories. But unlike Blue Spruce books, you can pick and choose which books you want to read yourself instead of having someone read them to you. I loved reading these books at school because they were easy to read and fast-paced, but were also exceptionally well-written. Below are three of those books that left a large impact on me.
Heart Of A Champion by Ellen Schwartz:
Kenji(Kenny) loves baseball, but can’t play due to a suspected heart condition. So he begs his brother Mitsuo(Mickey), the star of the Vancouver Asahi baseball team, to secretly coach him so that Kenny can try out for the junior team anyways. But after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbour, Kenny’s dream goes down the toilet when he and his family get sent to an internment camp for being Japanese-Canadian. Despite the horrible conditions there, Kenny finds a way to raise everyone’s spirits by bringing baseball back into their lives.
One of the reasons I like this book is because it is based on a true story. The Vancouver Asahi were a real baseball team made up of Japanese-Canadian men that lasted from 1914 until their forced disbandment in 1942. These players were not as big as their opponents, but made up for it with their speed and strategy, which led them to win a league championship every year from 1936-1941.
After the US declared war on Japan, the Canadian government declared war on Japan, too. Thus, they decreed that any person of Japanse descent was “an enemy alien”, and some 22,000 Japanese-Canadians were interned in Internment Camps as a result, including members of the Asahi. But the players formed baseball teams at their respective camps, and were eventually allowed to play against each other again.
This book takes that story, of the Asahis and Japanese Internment during WW2, and tells it to younger readers in a way that helps them better understand the events that took place. They can put themselves in Kenny’s shoes, and imagine what he had to go through. Heart Of A Champion also gives younger readers a glimpse into the more complex concept of racism, by talking about how badly people from different cultures were treated in the 1940s. Although there are plenty of serious parts in the book, it’s inspiring to see how Kenny perseveres through them.
Yesterday’s Dead by Pat Bourke:
In order to help support her family, thirteen-year-old Meredith goes to Toronto to work as a maid at a wealthy doctor’s house. Although she does not initially like the family, and they do not like her, they soon put their differences aside as the deadly Spanish Flu ravages the city and takes its toll on its inhabitants.
As soon as I heard that this book was about the Spanish Flu, I knew I had to read it.(You may recall my interest in the subject when I wrote a short story about it, https://noseinabookca.wordpress.com/2019/10/08/the-spanish-flu-strikes-again/.) I loved the book, and how the characters interacted with each other. It was also cool to see the kids learning to take charge as the adults around them grew sicker. For me, since this story takes place closer to my home, it was interesting to get to view a familiar place in a different time period.
September 17th by Amanda West Lewis:
In England, during the heart of a German bombing campaign nicknamed “the Blitz”, parents were desperate to protect their children. The government responded to their plees by creating a program that would send children overseas to live in British colonies. 90 of these children, along with other fee-paying passengers, boarded the SS City of Benares, which was destined for Halifax. However, the ship was torpedoed in what was deemed “safe waters”, and sank in about 30 minutes on September 17, 1940. Only 13 of the children from the program survived. This book is told from the points of view of three of the kids onboard: Bess, Ken, and Sonia.
If someone is curious about life in England during WW2, this is the first book I’d direct them to. The children featured in the book each come from different backgrounds, and personally experience the bombings, rationing, and other parts of life on the home front. Since the main characters are based on real people, they’ve incorporated their own memories into the book, which makes it all the more accurate. Although the story of the SS City of Benares is a tragedy, it still draws you in, and you won’t want to put this book down. You really connect with the characters, and root for them to beat the odds.
Although none of these three books won the Silver Birch Fiction Award, they’re still really great. I enjoyed reading these books by Canadian authors, and I hope you do too.
If you liked this post, here’s a link to my first post in this series, all about Blue Spruce selection books. https://noseinabookca.wordpress.com/2019/11/04/the-forest-of-reading-blue-spruce/ And keep a look out, because the final instalment will be coming soon!