Sunday, June 5, 2011

For Upper Elementary and Middle School Readers

There are some marvelous new middle grade and young adult novels just waiting to be enjoyed. Here are some that I have enjoyed recently.

The Unnameables by Elen Booraem takes place in a dystopian world on an island on which America's Puritan roots have been allowed to stagnate into increasing rigidity. When a young boy is washed up on the shore he is given to a kind family to raise, but he always feels like an outsider. This is especially true when he reaches the age at which he is about to be given his profession and a name that matches that occupation. Only those things that are useful have names and what Medford Runyuin likes to do is carve wood into pieces of art and those are not deemed useful at all. There are some rather creepy characters in this story of the value of self and of artistic expression. I liked Booraem's book Small Persons With Wings so much that I have an earlier blog post devoted to it.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper is the moving story of a young girl who has cerebral palsy and an active mind. Her biggest problem is that few people take the time to understand her grunts and gestures. When she gets a machine similar to that used by Stephen Hawking, she can suddenly display her brilliance, except that it takes people a long time to believe it is real. There is plenty of heartbreak and plenty of hope in this realistic contemporary novel.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thankha Lai is one of the most beautifully written stories of immigration that I have ever read. Ha, her mother, and three brothers flee Saigon as the city is beginning to fall and eventually find their way to Alabama where they must start a new life. Written in free verse that is beautiful, heart-wrenching, and humorous, this is a clear and poignant look at refugees, their travails, and their strengths.

Gods of Manhatten by Scott Mebus will keep those who enjoy tales of adventure and intriguing asking for the next in this series which has Manhatten being ruled by those who have gained fame in this famous borough. Politicians, sports stars, and others are given important roles in the mythology that has become the city, but it is the original residents, the Munsee people, who are fighting to regain the city after being locked in Central Park. The blend of actual people and settings with high fantasy makes this a pleasure to read.

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton finds Persimmony Smudge leading a dull life on the Island at the Center of Everything until she finds a magic pot that leads her on the adventure of a lifetime. Guafnoggle the Jester and Worvil the Worrier join her as Persimmony searches to see if the odd rise and fall of their island is really the slow breathing of the a sleeping giant under the soil. Plot twists and interesting characters appear at every turn.

The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams won a 2011 Stonewall Honor Book Award. It tells the story of 12-year old Dennis who likes soccer and fashion designing. When his fashion-forward friend (and school "hottie") Lisa convinces him that he should put on a dress that she has designed and come to school as her French exchange students friend, he discovers that wearing a dress can be comfortable. The confusion and problems that arise are predictable, but the story and accompanying illustrations by Quentin Blake make for enjoyable reading.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia perfectly grasps the interactions of sisters everywhere while addressing a troubled and often troubling slice of American history. In the summer of 1968 Delphine and her two younger sisters are sent from New York City to Oakland, California, to visit the mother they have not seen since the youngest girl was born. Cecile, their mother, is less than thrilled to see them and promptly tells them to go out to buy their dinner at the Chinese take-out around the corner and to stay out of the kitchen where she prints fliers and writes poetry. During the day, the girls get breakfast and attend a camp run by the Black Panther Party. The girls get an education in politics and people as they gain an understanding of their family's foibles.

The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series) by Maryrose Wood is a take-off on many themes of classic literature. A sweet, innocent young girl, Penelope Lumly is sent from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females to become the governess for three surprising children at Ashton Place. Lord Frederick has found three children raised by wolves and now wants to benefit from them in any way he can. (He belives in the idea of "Finder's Keepers".) His new bride Lady Constance sees them as savage nuisances but hopes that Penelope can tame and educate them in time for the Christmas Party she is planning. This is a humorous mix of Jane Eyre and Lemony Snicket that improves on both former stories in ways that are totally unexpected.


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