Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Three Middle Grade Books for Summer Reading

Sunrise was at 5:13, sunset will be at 9:11.  -26 seconds of daytime since Solstice.

Today, Monday, is wet, gray, cool.  All the colors, especially the chartreuses, are eye-poppingly bright.  That particular color just glows against wet fences and rock walls, the pines and firs and an especially pewter-colored sky. It's supposed to be kind of nice tomorrow.  By nice I mean warm, there may be even some sun!  It sure would be good to have a day made for walking around Seward Park.  The late evenings have been lovely, though.  The sky often starts to clear around 7 or so and by full dark there are stars and the moon.

Do you remember Ray Bradbury's story, All Summer in a Day?  Well, I think I spent that one day of sun sitting in the unemployment office.  I know it's on its way, it'll be summer overnight and then I will long for rain and fog again.

I am so far behind in writing about the books I've read.  I have this stack of books, maybe a stack 3 feet high, that I've read and really enjoyed and just haven't had the time to write about.  Some are hard to write about because I loved them so much I'm afraid I won't do them justice, some I've wanted to bundle into a theme and review together, some I don't remember as well (duh, I read them back in JANUARY!) so need to refresh my memory (which means re-reading at least enough to remember).  It's hard for me to keep track of everything because I read so much faster than I write.

So! I loved these three books for middle grades, the under-12's, that were all available as of February, two of them appropriately released on Valentine's Day based on the outpouring of love they've received.  They are very different from each other, and yet all so appealing. There's something for everyone in these books.

Wonder, by R. J. Palacio, is a bookseller/librarian's delight.  It's the story of Auggie Pullman, a boy with a facial deformity that keeps him from attending a mainstream school until 5th grade.  When he makes the decision to go to a regular school, he also makes the decision to open himself up to all the bullying and hate that comes to anyone who is different.  In Auggie's mind, he is an ordinary 10 year-old kid who does all the regular 10 year-old kid things.  What's different about him, though, is his face, a face that sends little kids screaming away from him.  Obviously, this will make it difficult for him to be accepted and treated like everyone else.

Wonder is a great read for kids, parents, teachers and librarians.  Maybe it should be an all-school read at the beginning of the school year along with Sahara Special, by Esme Codell?  Auggie only wants the experiences any other kid that age wants.  With all the surgeries he's had, the illnesses he's had, he's only now been strong enough to go to a "regular" school.  He knows it's not going to be easy but he is so willing to try.

There's a lot of crap that gets thrown his way, but there are also lots of people who look beyond his outsides and get to know him as a friend.  This book is NOT goopy or all feel-good-ish.  Descriptions of Auggie's mealtimes are kind of gross, he has a keen sense of humor, and there are lots of people who make fun of him who will never learn better.  I really liked the alternate view points that come up half-way through the book, although I wasn't ready for them.  I was totally in Auggie's head and I was a little disoriented by the change-over.

Wonder took me by surprise and I wish I'd read it as soon as it was in my hands.  It's not too young for older readers, if you can find the right ones.  It isn't sweet or a book about being brave.  It's  really about being ordinary no matter how extraordinary you are, and don't we all deal with that?  Ages 8 and up.  Knopf, $15.99.

Bliss, by Kathryn Littlewood, is one of those magical books that will captivate children from the very first page.  I remember starting this story on a weekend afternoon, settling down to "read" (it's probabley not fair to start a book knowing a nap is imminent) in my great big, comfy chair, and realizing that I'd finished it just as it started to get dark!  No nap because of this book!

It's a fun, quirky book about a family with a little bit of cookery magic, a magic Cookery Booke, and a bakery.  When the Bliss family parents are unexpectedly called out of town, the children break all the rules and bring the Booke out into the kitchen.  Surely a little experimentation with a few Cookies of Truth or Love Muffins won't hurt, right?  The town of Calamity Falls may never be the same.  Stir in a really horrible Aunt Lily who has her sights set on the Booke and the dough really hits the fan.

Bliss is reminiscent of Ingrid Law's Savvy and Jeanne Birdsall's Penderwicks.  It's a really great summer book, light, funny, magical and it would be really fun to have a mother-daughter book group read it and share the cookie recipes they come up with.  Ages 8 and up.  Katherine Tegen Books, $16.99.

The Humming Room, by Ellen Potter, is one of my very favorite books of the season (this season, summer-not the book season since it came out in Feb.).  It's atmospheric and descriptive and filled with legends and ghosts and adventure.  There also are orphans and almost orphans and very prickly children.  It's packed pretty full for a book of only 192 pages!

Roo hides.  She likes to go to ground, find a place close to living dirt, listen to the shifting of roots and worms.  It's the way she's found to be connected to something solid.  Her family, her dad and his girlfriend, are not very stable and one day they are murdered.  Because she is hiding under their trailer, she survives.  Everything finally shakes out and her caseworker finds her last relative, her reclusive Uncle Philip, who reluctantly takes her into his house and his life.

Philip Fanshaw lives on an island in the St. Lawrence river, in a house that was once a children's tuberculosis sanitarium.  It's a big, round place filled with empty rooms and walled off hallways, and nowhere to hide in the bedroom she's been given.  On one of her long rambles through the areas she's allowed she hears someone humming, but, as far as she knows, except for her uncle, herself and the few staff, there's no one else in the house!

Roo eventually finds the source of the humming.  A massive secret no one wants her to know.

I LOVED this book.  There are secret rooms and a dead garden.  There is a nature imp of sorts, a boy who lives on and around the river, who is followed by a heron.  There are sickly children and tantrums thrown.  There are broken adults and healing kids and secrets and nature.  There are legends about the boy on the river and gossip about the owner of the sanitarium.  It is a wonderful book inspired by The Secret Garden and a very good book for summer reading.  It would be a really good read-aloud, if you can keep it from the kids when you aren't looking.

It's a captivating story for ages 9 and up.  Feiwel and Friends, $16.99.

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