One of the best programs run by the Ontario Library Association is the Forest of Reading. Every year, the OLA selects 10 books written 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 favourite. When all of the votes have been collected, the winners are announced at the Festival of Trees in Toronto.
There are 9 different types of 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 post, I will be specifically talking about Red Maple books.
Red Maple Award Selection books are novels with more mature subject content, and are selected for students in Grades 7 and 8. As I am in this age range currently, I have not read too many selected books from earlier than last year. But thankfully, local and school libraries have held onto a couple, so I’ve been able to read those. By reading these books, I’ve gotten to explore lots of diverse stories written with people just like me in mind. Their writing level meets my reading level, and delivers a book that I can get lost in for hours.
I was happy to discover that, out of the two novels I’d originally selected for this post, the other book(s) in their respective series had also been nominated for the award in different years. So today, I’m not just profiling two individual books, but rather two individual series’.
Charlie Wilcox and Charlie Wilcox’s Great War by Sharon E. Mckay:
Charlie Wilcox is a boy from a small coastal town in Newfoundland. Despite having a club foot(deformed foot), he’s no different from the rest of his friends. However, he longs to join them on the seal-hunting trips that they take with their fathers each summer, which his own father forbids. When Charlie finds himself in the big city, he takes a risk and smuggles himself onto a sealing ship to prove that he’s just as capable of seal-hunting as anyone else. Imagine his surprise when he instead finds himself on a troop ship headed to England! Set during the First World War, Charlie Wilcox introduces us to Charlie and his adventures, and Charlie Wilcox’s Great War recounts some of his experiences on the battlefront not told in the first book.
At first I was drawn to Charlie Wilcox because of its WW1 setting, but I soon came to enjoy the story as a whole. Unlike in other books, it’s easy to understand the decisions Charlie makes, and his character is quite lovable. The beginning is a bit slow, but the action picks up, and also sheds some light on the lesser-known battle of Beaumont-Hamel, which Charlie’s character becomes involved in. The First Newfoundland Regiment, who weren’t a part of Canada at that time, went into battle with 800 men, and over 700 were killed or wounded.(By the way, a great book about the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel is No Man’s Land by Kevin Major. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/106389/no-mans-land-by-keven-major/9780385658867 It’s not a Red Maple book, but still worth a read, and goes further into depth of the battle).
In Charlie Wilcox’s Great War, Charlie finally arrives home, and he recounts his experiences as he talks to Claire, a girl from his village. It picks up right after the cliffhanger in book #1, and sees his character get put into lots of other strange situations. I liked this book just as much as the first, and I was glad to see it end on a high note.
The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey, and My Name is Parvana by Deborah Ellis:
When Parvana’s father is arrested for having a foreign education, her family suddenly has no way to make money. Since Parvana had accompanied her father to the marketplace each day where he offered his reading and writing services, a plan was formed. Parvana would take her father’s place- disguised as a boy. Set in modern-day Afghanistan and Pakistan, The Breadwinnner, Parvana’s Journey, and My Name Is Parvana tell the story of Parvana, from disguising herself as a boy to earn money(The Breadwinner), to tracking down her family all alone(Parvana’s Journey), and being taken prisoner by the Americans(My Name Is Parvana). Mud City, the third book in the Breadwinner series, is told from the point of view of Shauzia, one of Parvana’s friends. This book, however, was not nominated for a Red Maple Award.
I was first introduced to this series by my dad, as he chose to read The Breadwinner to me before bed one night. Up until then, I’d heard very little about the Taliban, the war in Afghanistan, or the fact that women had so few rights there. So I was more than a little surprised to hear about that in the book, and I was especially shocked by the fact that women weren’t allowed to work or go to school like we can in Canada. This book really opened up my eyes to their struggles, and disscussed the subject very maturely. The characters are intriguing, and the plot is well-constructed. I think Malala Yousafzai speaks for me when she said that “All girls should read The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis.”
Despite the fact that none of the five books I listed won a Red Maple Award, I still highly reccommend them. Though both series are told from the perspectives of very different people living through very different wars, they still illustrate just how devastating war is, especially through the eyes of children.
I hope you enjoyed my final post in my three-part Forest of Reading series. If you missed the first two, the links are right here: