If you’re still looking for a present for a young book lover, check out Ban This Book by Alan Gratz. Larrabee and I read it aloud over the Thanksgiving break. I give it two enthusiastic thumbs up.
Ban This Book is the story of Amy Anne Ollinger, a 4th grader who never speaks up for herself. Not at school where her classmates see her as a bookish mouse. And not at home where her two younger sisters’ needs always come first. She spends as much time as possible in the corner of the school library where she can read in peace.
Then, one day, the school board removes several books from the library–including her favorite book (From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler). Amy Anne, in a private act of rebellion, resolves to read all of the books on the banned list. But as she collects the books, she finds that her friends are interested in them too. So she starts a Banned Books Locker Library and finds herself speaking out against censorship.
You have to like a book that teaches kids about the First Amendment, features a school visit from author Dav Pilkey, and mentions lots and lots of good books.
R.J. Palacio‘s Wonder was the best book to read aloud and also the worst.
Larrabee and I borrowed it from from Blaine this fall because we knew the movie was coming out in November, and we always try to read the book first.
Auggie Pullman has a congenital facial deformity, and because of his health problems, he’s been home schooled until now. Wonder is the story of his 5th grade year, his first one in school, told through the points of view of Auggie, his sister, and several other kids.
It was the worst book for me to read aloud because it made me cry. And I don’t mean just a few sniffles over one sad scene. Sometimes Larrabee worried that we’d never get through the whole book.
But it was also the best book for me to read aloud. It sparked great conversations about empathy, about being different, about challenges and blessings, and about being kind. At the end, after all the tears, the book made me smile.
For those of you who want to read more about Auggie, R.J. Palacio has written three more stories from the points of view of Julian (his main tormentor), Christopher (his oldest friend), and Charlotte (a 5th grade classmate), collected in a book called Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories.
And we saw the movie adaptation last week. It’s very good too.
Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley is a book for kids of all ages who want to believe that magic is real.
Ten-year-old Micah Tuttle believes in magic. He’s grown up hearing his Grandpa Ephraim’s stories about the magical Circus Mirandus with its flying birdwoman and master illusionist, the Man Who Bends Light.
But now Grandpa Ephraim is dying, and Micah’s Great-Aunt Gertrudis, who does not believe in magic, has come to take charge of the household.
Micah’s only hope is to find the Circus Mirandus and convince the Man Who Bends Light to give his grandfather the miracle he once promised him. And with the help of his new friend Jenny, he’s determined to do just that.
This book will have you listening for the special music that means the Circus Mirandus is in town.
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk is set in western Pennsylvania in the fall of 1943. It is the story of twelve-year-old Annabelle, whose peaceful world is upended when a cruel girl joins her school.
This new girl, Betty, first threatens Annabelle, then her younger brothers. When Toby, an outsider and World War I veteran, tries to protect them, he becomes Betty’s new target. Many in the community are inclined to believe Betty’s lies. Annabelle, though, is determined to prove Toby’s innocence.
The very first sentence sets the tone for this novel that is both beautifully written and disturbing: “The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie.”
It’s not an easy read–either in a reading level sense or in an emotional sense. I wouldn’t recommend it for every middle grade reader, but for the right reader, it offers a brave and relatable heroine, a tense story, and plenty of food for thought.
Larrabee’s latest read-aloud choice was The Wingsnatchers by Sarah Jean Horwitz.
It’s a fantasy adventure about Carmer, a magician’s apprentice, and Grit, a flightless faerie princess, who team up to stop a threat to the world of the fae.
Unlike some of his friends, Larrabee does not consider himself an expert on faeries. He’s obsessed with both magic tricks and machines, though, so he chose this book based on the promise of amazing stage magic and terrifying mechanical cats. On those points, the book did not disappoint. And the faeries turned out to be pretty cool too.
We enjoyed the fast-moving plot and the intriguing setting, and we look forward to the sequel.
If you have daughters, you likely know all about The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall. And its three sequels.
But if, like me, you only have boys at home, you may have missed this gem. The Penderwicks is sort of a modern-day Little Women about four sisters who take a summer vacation with their father to a cottage on the grounds of the Arundel estate in the Berkshires. There, they make friends with the son of the estate’s owner and have all manner of adventures.
This book has oodles of old-fashioned charm. A large part of the fun is getting to know the sisters, practical Rosalind (age 12), feisty Skye (age 11), imaginative Jane (age 10), and shy Batty (age 4), and their many traditions and family rules. (For example, the OAP–or Oldest Available Penderwick–is responsible for the younger ones.) I’m sure that if I’d read this book as a child, my sister and I would have played Penderwicks with the sisters next door.
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground is the latest book from the talented Rita Williams-Garcia. It’s about music and grief and family.
Clayton Byrd loves to spend time with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd. He especially loves to play his blues harp in Washington Square Park with Cool Papa and the Bluesmen.
When his grandfather dies unexpectedly, Clayton does not know how to deal with his loss. He’s in trouble at school and at odds with his mother (who is still angry at Cool Papa). So Clayton runs away to join the Bluesmen. But on the subway, he encounters a hip hop group and ends up in even more trouble.
I enjoyed this one more than Larrabee did. He liked the character of Clayton, but he says he prefers books with “fewer sad parts and more action.”