One thing I notice is that in books, a lot of kids’ parents are dead. Or they’re missing or on vacation. If they are around, the parents are kind and wise and do things like braid your hair and play board games with you. In books, parents aren’t bad unless they’re stepparents. (That’s not fair, in my opinion. I’ve had several stepparents, and some of them were very nice.) Real parents are nice to their kids.
That is not my experience.
Nell’s thoughts in The Hidden Summer by Gin Phillips, quoted above (page 13), sum up the “mother problem” that is in a lot of middle grade fiction. I loved the observation that the parents are missing, and in fact, this whole story is how Nell and her best friend Lydia escape for the summer. They’re sort of 9 to 5 runaways, inventing excuses for their summer-long absence, as a means of dealing with their own mother problems.
Nell’s mother is not really abusive, but she does have angry outbursts, and she doesn’t seem to like Nell at all. Lydia’s life seems perfect — perfect house, perfect mom — but it’s all about appearances. Lydia’s mom also seems indifferent about her being around or not.
I loved the idea of the adventure of packing food and supplies and having a getaway hangout. It reminded me a lot of one of my all-time favorite childhood books, Mandy by Julie Andrews. This novel read a bit more like an exciting adventure than these others which are more introspective. In fact, while I was consulting the book for my review, my 4th grade son (who isn’t drawn to quiet introspective books) said that it sounded good after reading the back. Because it’s not quite so deep, it is one that is easily accessible to the younger 4th graders of the middle-grade reading set, even though the girls are 12, and in spite of the fact that my public library shelved it in the YA section.
Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes has a different mother problem. It’s not that her mother is inattentive or abusive, she’s just not there, and the reason is quite unique: She’s been deported back to Honduras. Instead of staying with family friends as the friends and her mother would like, her father steps in to take care of her. She doesn’t know her father very well, and she’s certainly never been able to rely on him. Even though he moves in, she still has to take care of herself–feeding herself, locking up at night, etc.
Her sixth grade class has to pick a service project, either working with the animal shelter or in the soup kitchen. Since Gaby and her mom had to use the services there, Gaby really doesn’t want to go there. What if her friends find out? Fortunately, the rest of the class agrees on the animal shelter. Gaby uses her talent with words to write fliers calling attention to the pets who need adopted. Gaby can’t help but identify with these orphaned, abused, or unwanted animals.
I have to admit that hearing about Gaby’s caring, hardworking mother trying her best to make a life for her and her daughter in America caused me to look at undocumented workers and their families in a different way. This storyline was not at all preachy or over the top, but it did make me think. Gaby’s father’s neglect is also presented in a totally age-appropriate way. It was a traditional school/friend story that will appeal to readers who enjoy this type of “problem novel.”
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Sure Signs of Crazy brings in the mother of all mother problems. Sarah’s mother is in prison for killing Sarah’s twin brother. In spite of that grim plotpoint, I liked this book a lot for older middle grade readers (12 and up). Read my full review, published last month, by following the link.
This book started off with a definite quirky vibe (which I like, but some people strongly dislike), but then it changed into an interesting, historically set adventure story with just a tiny bit of quirk — mostly due to the unconventional characters and setting — that shouldn’t be a hindrance to anyone.
Rooftoppers was so well written that I found myself marking passages throughout, so I’m going to try to center my review around some of author Katherine Rundell’s words to give a proper feel for the novel.
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Charles Maxim who had “never
Jamie Grimm isn’t who you’d expect to be a middle school comic. In I Funny, the middle school series by best-selling author James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, Jamie’s family has died in a tragic car accident, leaving him confined to a wheelchair and living with his aunt, uncle, and bully of a cousin in a new town. That said, the book focuses on the positive and the funny while still acknowledging so many of the realities of middle school life.
Jamie works for his Uncle Frankie’s diner – not the uncle he lives with – and tells jokes to the customers as they pay their checks. His laughs go over well, sprinkling a mixture of Yakov Smirnoff and George Carlin (the clean one), amongst others. His
Yes, Kid Docs by Jenny Lynne features children in an experimental program where children are trained beginning when they are toddlers so they can practice medicine when they reach double digits. It had a futuristic sci-fi flavor but a realistic setting, which I think is rare in middle grade fiction.
The story about 10-year-old emergency room doc Connor and his friends ER doc Hannah, OB-GYN Cassie (and first crush), and his older brother Alex, a surgeon who might be ready for retirement at the ripe old age of 14, pulled me along. The hospital setting was rich and accurate, with enough medical details to pique the curiosity of kids who might be so inclined, or to feed the fascination of adults who like to
I am, in no way, a history buff. In all honesty, history was always my least favorite subject in school, and I took only the bare minimum of courses required for my high school graduation and never looked back. I don’t have the kind of memory that lends itself to retaining important names and dates from historical events, and the delivery of facts always seemed as dry as could be when I was a student, so my interest always waned.
Author Jonathan Hennessey and illustrator Aaron McConnell take an entirely different angle in presenting history in their collaboration The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation. Here, they take on one of American history’s most well-known speeches, as well as the complex topics of slavery, the Civil
Last week, I featured shorter titles for middle grade readers (both young and older), but this week for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday I am sharing some titles that to me fell into the upper range of middle grade fiction, which will be better enjoyed by middle schoolers, 6th to 8th grade. All of these books were nominated in the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction category, for which I am a round I panelist, but these are my thoughts alone and not meant to reflect that of the panel as a whole.
Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool
This is a beautiful book. Lyrical. I think it’s appropriate for older readers (6th and up, I’d say), because it is so thoughtful and almost poetic, not because of any
This week I’m sharing several books that are written from a boy’s point of view. I’m happy to be linking up to Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. All the books except the last one are good ol’ library books, gotten in my quest to conquer the 100 Cybils Middle Grade Fiction nominees. My opinions are my own and not meant to reflect those of the committee as a whole.
Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephen Pastis
I’m not sure what I think of Timmy. He’s not as much of a ne’er do well as some of the boys prominently featured in children’s lit these days, but there’s something not quite right about him (that’s not my judgment alone. That’s how he’s portrayed and meant to
I’ve read and reviewed the previous 3 books in the Heroes of Olympus series, but never got a chance to request a review copy of book four, The House of Hades, from Disney Worldwide Publishing. So imagine my surprise and delight when a copy appeared in my mailbox the day before its publishing date! I of course tore right into it and was not disappointed.
The House of Hades (Heroes of Olympus) picks up where The Mark of Athena (linked to my review) left off with one whopper of a cliffhanger. Percy and Annabeth have fallen down the entrance to Tartarus and must make their way to the Doors of Death. They are aided by Bob, a Titan whose memory Percy wiped, Damasen, the one good
Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington is the kind of slightly dark book that I think reader-girls eat up. When I was in that older middle grade/young YA age, I remember reading every book I could about girls suffering with anorexia, girls with other afflictions like loss of hearing or sight, and others in that vein.
The only information Sarah Nelson has about her mother is from cards she receives twice a year (her birthday and Christmas) and whatever she turns up when she does a Google search. Sarah’s mom Jane is in a mental hospital, locked up by the state after she tried to drown Sarah and her twin brother Simon when they were 2, killing Simon. It won’t surprise you that 12-year-old
This is my first time participating in Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, though I’ve seen some of my Cybils’ friends talking about it in the past. Since I’m determined to review some of the marvelous titles I’m reading as a round I Cybils panelist in a more timely fashion, I thought that this was a great place to do it.
My opinions are mine alone and not meant to reflect the thoughts of the Cybils.
Binny for Short by Hilary McKay starts strong with wonderful writing and such fun details as a beloved bookstore,a story-telling father, and a nemesis.
When Binny’s dad dies, the family struggles financially which means moving schools and apartments each year, and giving up some things that they’ve been used to, including
We moved to the States when I was in 7th grade, and I still remember the sheer amazed joy I felt when I was handed my first Scholastic catalog by my English teacher, and found out I could buy stacks of books for only about $1 each. (yes I’m old now. Thank you for noticing) I have loved Scholastic ever since. Now I’m delighted to see my own children enjoying them too. The Darkest Path is part of their Fall 2013 catalog, and the following review was written by my son Elliot, who is off to his first year of college next week (yes I am old). We got the book free because life is good. The following is Elliot’s honest opinion.
First off, I
Oh how I love this book. My 9-year-old son got to it before me, and how he loves this book. We read excerpts aloud to my 15-year-old daughter who has never lost her appreciation for children’s books (She must get it from me), and she loved what she’s heard so she read it and likes it. You can read the description yourself, but the characters speak to what was lovely about the book:
FLORA — A precocious (and self-proclaimed cynical) 10-year-old girl.
ULYSSES — A squirrel who got sucked up by a vacuum cleaner, the survival of which event gave him powers like flying and the ability to understand and communicate
TOOTIE TICKHAM — The neighbor, a bit on the nosy side, but one of