Some of the best novels in the library fall into this category. Readers in grades three to six get special attention from authors and publishers. There are so many from which to select. Don't limit yourself to the popular, often overdone, series that fill so many bookstores and school book orders. Look a little harder and find some real gems like those on this list.
Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech carries on where Love That Dog ended. It amazes and pleases me to this day that kids get so quickly involved with a novel that at first glance seems too unusual to be enjoyable. Hate That Cat will have that same effect. It is again written in free verse and tells the story of a young boy whose teacher insists that he write some poetry. The poems that are referenced are included at the back of this slim volume. The story is filled with emotions that ring true and a story that is sure to touch your heart. (Cat lovers should not worry since cat is loved by the end of the book.)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman has Gaiman’s trademark creepiness. The young hero, known as Bod from his realization that he is nobody, was lucky enough to escape from his home before being murdered with the rest of the family. Just a toddler, he manages to reach a graveyard when the ghosts are out for their evening air. A kindly ghost couple adopts him and he is raised in the graveyard. He grows up in each chapter, adapting to his lifestyle, meeting living beings only rarely, and learning how to survive in this half-way world of his. Always there is the very real fear that the murderer will find Bod and finish his mission. This novel is very different from Gaiman’s Coraline, but just as creepily enjoyable.
Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi includes a young rabbit named Kenny, a dragon named Graham, and literate Badger named George. Kenny finds Graham on the hill near his home and soon befriends the gentle giant. The neighbors are not as easily charmed and call for someone to come slay the dragon, perhaps someone named George. There are many literary references but the story is charming, exciting, and satisfying whether or not you understand them all.
Kip Campbell, Funeral Director’s Boy by Coleen Paratore is an unexpected title to say the least--funny and informative book about living about a funeral home. It turns out to be a pleasant story that pays attention to how hard it is to be a little different from everyone else. Jan M., Emerson’s former music teacher, grew up in just this setting, living above her father’s funeral home. Many of the scenes in this book are very similar to memories she has shared with me.
Bat 6 by Virginia Euwer Wolfe is not a new book nor is it read as often as it deserves. The setting is rural Oregon in 1949 where families are trying to put themselves back together after World War II. The girls who tell the story in their many voices are carrying on a fifty year tradition of playing a special baseball game between neighboring towns. One team includes a girl whose family has just returned from a Japanese internment camp. A girl on the other team never really knew her father because he was killed at Pearl Harbor. The girls and their communities watch the fears and angers of the war come to a head on the baseball field. This is a moving book.
Sticks by Joan Bauer is about pool, math, real kids, humor, and family tensions. What more could you want? The just slightly off-beat characters and the surprises of humor make this a great read. In fact, it is so great that you won’t even notice the math and you will want to learn to play pool.
Seer of Shadows by Avi brings New York City in 1872 to life. Horace is a sensitive and hard-working photographer’s apprentice. The photographer for whom he works is a bit of a con artist and tries to get Horace to go along with the scam of a wealthy woman who believes she is being haunted by her daughter’s ghost. The trouble is that Horace sees the ghost. The ensuing story is fueled by adventure, cultural clashes, and some true surprises. I am always amazed at the wide range of Avi’s talents. Read anything by him and you are sure to be entertained but do not expect his books to all be alike in any way.
Fish and A Dog For Life by L.S. Matthews caught my eye with their unusual covers. I confess I bought these books because of their covers. The stories are at least as good as the covers. They are filled with touches of the mystical, strong characters, and a wealth of determination. Fish is the odder story of the two and maybe, therefore, the stronger. A boy and his parents are forced to leave their home due to political strife, drought and famine. The boy finds a fish in the last mud in front of their home and takes it him as a sort of talisman that helps with the many trials they face as they travel to a new place. A Dog for Life tells of two strong boys who offer their dog a good life. In the process one of the boys decides to take the dog across the country to what they hope will be a welcoming home. Descriptions do not do justice to either of these books.
The Magic Pickle by Scott Morse is an appropriately odd graphic novel about a pickle superhero, evil vegetables, and a charming little girl with social issues of her own. To add to the enjoyment are myriad plays on words. Even though the story is a little predictable in places, no one will really care because it such an enjoyable and unusual book.
Under the Watson’s Porch by Susan Shreve is just what the cover blurb says, “a touching story of first love”, but it is also much more. It is easy to imagine a girl finding friendship with this boy who is her parent’s worst nightmare. He has been kicked out of school several times and is not exactly welcomed by the woman who has volunteered to give him another chance. The young heroine of the story finds his strengths as they become good friends with each other and with the young children in the neighborhood. Together they teach the adults some valuable lessons.
The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry is very different from Lowry’s serious and dystopian titles like The Giver. It is also different from her friendly young girl books like Anastasia Krupnik. Here Lowry tries her hand at parody and succeeds beautifully. The story harks back to the classic stories of orphans who find happiness in hardship and other “old fashioned” stories. It is stronger than The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket but has the same tongue in cheek references, including a glossary. If I try to tell the story, I will start laughing too hard and never finish so you will just have to read it for yourself.
My earlier blog posts have included these two titles. Clip on the titles to go to those posts.
Ferret Island by Richard Jennings
The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan