Little League tryouts were this weekend, so I have baseball on my mind. One of the best baseball books I read last year was Al Capone Throws Me a Curve
This book is the fourth in Gennifer Choldenko’s terrific Tales from Alcatraz series.
Like the others, it’s set during the 1930s on Alcatraz Island and stars Moose Flanagan. In this book, Moose is thirteen and a half, and his father is the assistant prison warden.
Moose just wants to spend the summer before 9th grade playing baseball, but his life is never that easy. The captain of the high school baseball team demands Alcatraz souvenirs as the price of allowing Moose and his friend to play. The warden asks Moose to keep an eye on his willful daughter Piper. And his parents often make him responsible for his 17-year-old autistic sister Natalie.
For a good-hearted kid who tries to do the right thing, Moose ends up in some crazy predicaments. His story has both humorous and touching moments. It also has fascinating historical details, but they never bog down the fast-paced plot.
It’s possible to read this book without reading the other three first. Larrabee did. But for me, part of the fun of this book was revisiting the characters and setting that I loved so much from the earlier books in the series.
I’d recommend reading them in order–and then taking a field trip to Alcatraz.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by end-of-semester projects, Class Action by Steven B. Frank could be just the comic relief you need.
It’s the story of a 6th grader named Sam who has too much homework. When he protests, the school suspends him. So, with the help of his sister, a few friends, and his cranky neighbor (a retired lawyer), he files a class action lawsuit against the Los Angeles Board of Education claiming that homework is unconstitutional.
It’s not a particularly plausible story, but it’s a lot of fun. There’s humor in everything from Sam’s act of civil disobedience to his fundraising efforts to the courtroom scenes. Kids will learn quite a bit about the law and the justice system too.
No matter how much baseball trivia you know, I guarantee you’ll learn something new from Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages. For example, in 1947, Sophie Kurys of the All-American Girls Baseball League had 201 stolen bases in one season. And she wasn’t allowed to wear baseball pants. She had to slide in a skirt!
Ten-year-old Katy Gordon is the best pitcher in her Berkeley, California neighborhood. None of the boys in the summer sandlot games can hit her “Sunday pitch.” But when she tries out for a Little League team, she learns that girls are not eligible to play under any circumstances.
The year is 1957. The national news is full of the space race and the civil rights movement. The local news is buzzing with the New York Giants’ move to San Francisco. Katy is in the 5th grade, and when she chooses women baseball players as her social studies research topic, she uncovers a fascinating history.
Katy is the younger sister of Dewey and Suze from Ellen Klages’ The Green Glass Sea (set in Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1943) and White Sands, Red Menace (set in Alamogordo, New Mexico in 1946), but you do not have to have read the other books to enjoy this one.
Out of Left Field is an engaging story with baseball, history, librarians, scientists, a diverse cast of characters, and even a cameo appearance by Willie Mays. I recommend it!
Escape from Aleppo by N. H. Sendai is a timely and eye-opening story about a 14-year-old girl who is forced to flee her home during the Syrian Civil War.
When bombs start falling on her neighborhood in October 2013, Nadia’s family decides to leave. But in the chaos, she and her cat Mishmish get separated from the others. With the help of a mysterious old man and two young boys, she’ll have to make her way to the Turkish border.
Escape from Aleppo is a suspenseful and evocative story about her journey through the war-torn city. In addition, through flashbacks, the reader sees glimpses of her ordinary life (painting her fingernails, watching Arab Idol, eating her grandmother’s cookies) before the war.
Although it’s fictional, this book weaves in a lot of factual information. I like middle grade books about recent history because they help kids understand important events that are rarely discussed in school.
I recommend this book for middle schoolers who have read about the Syrian refugee crisis in the news or seen the heartbreaking before-and-after pictures of the ancient city of Aleppo and want to know more about what kids are going through in that part of the world.
Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla is a fun, fast-paced story about a 6th grader named Stanley and an epic comics trivia contest.
Stanley has sensory processing disorder, and a lot of things stress him out, such as his 14-year-old brother, his absent father, the fact that his best friend wants to make new friends, bullies, the ridiculously terrifying safety drills at his new school, crowds, noise, and having to say hello to the new girl next door.
The new girl, Liberty, turns out to be pretty cool, though. With her can-do attitude and Stanley’s encyclopedic knowledge of comics, they make a great team for Trivia Quest, an all-day treasure hunt in downtown San Diego. If they can solve all seven puzzles, they’ll win VIP passes to Comic Fest the following weekend. But it won’t be easy…
Stanley Will Probably Be Fine is a great book about facing challenges and overcoming fears. Anyone who’s ever felt anxious about a new situation will relate to Stanley.
If you like time travel stories, Arthurian legends, or video games, then you should check out The Once and Future Geek, the first book in Mari Mancusi’s new series called The Camelot Code. It’s action-packed and funny.
Not only do Sophie and Stu, two modern day middle schoolers, travel back in time to Camelot, but a young Arthur and Guinevere also travel to the 21st century. This mixing of characters and time periods leads to some humorous moments. While Stu uses his video game skills to defeat challengers to the throne and defend Britain against the Saxons, Guinevere tries her first cherry Slurpee from 7-Eleven (and gets her first brain freeze!).
When Arthur learns from “the Google” how his story ends, he balks at returning to his own time. His actions in the present are starting to affect the fabric of time, though, threatening everything from Stu’s life to pepperoni pizza. To make matters worse, the evil Morgana wants to kill Arthur. It’s up to Sophie and Stu to save the day (with a little help from Merlin).
Thank you to Disney-Hyperion and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is November 20.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang is so good. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me want to rush out and give a copy to all the kids I know (starting with Larrabee).
Set in the early 1990s, Front Desk is the story of ten-year-old Mia Tang, who just moved to the United States from China. Her parents take a job managing a motel in Anaheim, California, and Mia often handles the front desk. The motel owner, Mr. Yao, makes life difficult for her parents, while she has to deal with his son Jason at school.
Some of the things I loved most about this book are:
- Mia. Mia is a terrific narrator. She’s caring, brave, resourceful, and optimistic. Kids will root for her whether she’s helping her father wash towels in the bathtub when the washing machine breaks or navigating 5th grade as the only girl who can’t afford jeans.
- Mia’s friendship with Lupe. At school, Mia bonds with Lupe, the daughter of Mexican immigrants.
- Mia’s relationship with her parents. Mia’s mother and father want only the best for her but sometimes fail to understand what she’s going through.
- Mia’s hotel community. Mia and her parents left their extended family behind in China, but they find a new one with Hank and the other weeklies and with the Chinese immigrants they feed and house at the hotel.
- Mia’s letters. Throughout the story, Mia writes letters, including demand letters, thank you letters, and letters of recommendation. Although she’s not a native English speaker, Mia is a character who changes the world with her English words.
This book tackles tough, discussion-worthy topics, such as immigration, poverty, and racial discrimination, but it does so in the context of a story that’s engaging and accessible to kids. Highly recommend!