I don’t know why it took me twenty-five years to read The Giver by Lois Lowry. It’s so good.
It’s the story of 12-year-old Jonas, who lives in what seems like a utopian community. At the Ceremony of Twelve, when his classmates are given their Assignments, roles like Birthmother, Instructor, or Laborer, Jonas is not assigned. Instead, he is selected at the next Receiver of Memory and is apprenticed to a man who calls himself The Giver. As he learns his new role, he begins to understand that when his community suppressed its bad memories (war, poverty, pain), it also gave up good memories (color, music, strong emotion)
The Giver won the Newbery Medal in 1994, and I’ve picked it up in the bookstore or library many times since then (including when the movie version came out in 2014). It was Larrabee who finally prompted me to read it, though. His teacher recommended it, and he decided he needed to read since it has also been suggested by someone at camp last summer. So maybe it’s one of those books that needs multiple recommendations. If so, let this blog post be the one that pushes you over the edge. It’s the type of story that will linger in your thoughts.
The other books in The Giver Quartet are Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son, but they are companion books rather than sequels to Jonas’s story. Larrabee has enjoyed the second and third books. We also enjoyed the movie, although it’s no substitute for the book in this case.
24 Hours in Nowhere by Dusti Bowling is the story of a smart kid named Gus who decides to do something incredibly stupid: venture into Dead Frenchman’s Mine.
Gus doesn’t set out to risk his life on that hot summer day. He’s minding his own business when a bully named Bo tries to make him eat a cactus. When he’s rescued by a girl named Rossi, she trades her dirt bike for his safety. That’s a problem because Rossi is the best racer in town, and she needs that bike if she’s going to beat Bo in the final race of the season the next day. But Gus, who lives with his grandmother in a trailer in Nowhere, Arizona, only has $7 to his name. So he agrees to bring Bo a bar of gold from the dangerous Dead Frenchman’s Mine to get the bike back.
Gus has three companions on his crazy adventure: Matthew, one of Bo’s sidekicks who’s sent to supervise him, Jessie, his former best friend in elementary school who bumps into him when he’s buying supplies, and Rossi, who hears about his plan from Jessie. Over the course of 24 hours, this unlikely team finds many unexpected things in the old abandoned mine.
24 Hours in Nowhere is a satisfying adventure story. I particularly like the way the characters interact with each other. Larrabee enjoyed this one too.
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.