Saturday, November 1, 2008

Good Reads for Middl School

Young Adult literature grows every day. There are so many new titles that it is overwhelming to try to keep up with them. Here are few that I have read and enjoyed recently.

Houdini: The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi is a fictional biography of Harry Houdini in graphic format. The illustrations are all done in shades of gray and black but manage to capture the feel of the times, like an old fashioned photograph. The story shows the bravado and trickery used by Houdini as a part of his showmanship. Drama and energy are apparent throughout the story.

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd is told in the voice of an autistic boy who lives with his parents and older sister in London. When a rarely seen cousin comes to visit before reluctantly moving to the United States with his mother, the family agrees to visit the London Eye Ferris wheel. The cousin eagerly accepts a ticket from a strange man who approaches the children as they wait in a long line. He goes off to ride alone. Although the narrator and his sister are sure they see their cousin get on the Ferris Wheel, he never gets off when the ride comes to a stop. Using the kind of thinking that often is a part of autism; the narrator is able to solve the mystery before the police can crack the case.

The Buddha’s Diamonds by Carolyn Marsden and Thay Thap Niem is written in a style which evokes Buddhist writings more than a contemporary young adult novel. Set in post war Vietnam, the story is of the dilemmas and guilt a boy faces when his family home and fishing boat are destroyed by a storm. Not surprisingly, there is a strong message included with the story.

Uprising!: Three Young Women Caught in the Fire that Changed America by Margaret Peterson Haddix is the well-researched and well-told story of three young women from varied backgrounds who are drawn together by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Two of the young women work in the sweatshop and participate in the strike there. The third is the daughter of one of the owners of the factory. Through their three voices a balanced and interesting record of the factory and the famous fire is given life.

Peeled by Joan Bauer has the requisite cute boy as required by the laws of good young adult girl books. It also has a good story and a faith in the power of journalism. A girl in an apple farming community sees the town’s identity being threatened by a developer who is buying up farm land to create expensive suburban housing. Using her role as a high school newspaper editor, she is able to let the community know what is happening.

The Dead and the Gone and Life as We Know It by Susan Beth Pfeffer are two looks at a world sharply changed when an asteroid hits the moon, throwing it out of orbit. The first title is told as the diary of a girl living in rural Pennsylvania. The second is seen through the eyes of a Puerto Rican boy living in one of the rougher sections of New York City. Both stories are frighteningly believable. While neither actually portrays the end of the world, they are not very optimistic.

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow by James Sturm and Rick Tommaso is a graphic novel that offers insight into life as a sharecropper in the South. The narrator wanted to play baseball like the great Satchel Paige but Paige quickly ended that dream with one well directed pitch. So the narrator went back to the farm and a life shaped by Jim Crow and segregation. When Satchel Paige comes to town for an exhibition game, the narrator and the town feel somewhat vindicated by another well-directed pitch.

Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadahota is a new twist on dog stories. Cracker is a young boy’s beloved dog but the family must move to an apartment with a no-pets allowed policy. So Cracker is volunteered to the Army and, after training, is sent to Vietnam to defend his keeper. The story gives a feel for the love between boy and dog as well as the trust and faith between soldier and dog. A strong story of the realities of Vietnam without too much blood and gore is integral to the story. Kadahota’s master storytelling in this book is as evident as it was in her award winning novel Kira, Kira, though the story is very different.

100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson is being hailed as the new Harry Potter. This does not mean that it is about a school for wizards. Instead, Henry in this book is sent to the farm of relatives where he finds 100 little cupboards hidden behind the attic wall. When he opens their doors he is transported to different times and places, even different worlds. At other times they release their good or evil into the world.

Charlie Bone series by Jenny Nimmo is very similar to Harry Potter in the first story line. Charlie gets sent to a school for wizards and magic and then has many adventures. Some die-hard Potter fans may find it too similar, but the stories have their own power and magic. In fact, some folks like them better than the famous works by J. K. Rowling. These can be read by folks as young as fourth grade and enjoyed by everyone, including adults.

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate will surprise those readers who think of Applegate only as the author of the Animorphs series. Written in free verse, this book offers a compassionate view of immigration and references to the atrocities faced by the people of Sudan.

I talked about Twilight by Stephanie Meyers in an earlier blog post. Go here to read that post.

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