Jack Gantos is the author of lots of great books for kids, including the Joey Pigza series and the Newbery Award-winning Dead End in Norvelt.
Now he shows kids how it’s done in a fabulous book called Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories that’s instructive and inspiring.
This book is chock full of good tips, but it’s not just a how-to guide. It’s also the very funny story of how Jack Gantos became an author. Using examples from his own childhood journals, he demonstrates how to be observant and then shape events that really happened into compelling stories with a beginning, middle, and end and emotion as well as action. He also explains story structure and the revision process in clear and simple terms. It’s a must for the young writers in your life.
The Ruins of Gorlan is the first book in John Flanagan‘s popular Ranger’s Apprentice series. It’s an action-packed fantasy in a medieval setting.
Fifteen-year-old Will is an orphan and ward of Castle Redmont. He dreams of being a knight and hopes to be selected for Battleschool on Choosing Day. Instead, he’s apprenticed to a Ranger named Halt to learn the ways of the kingdom’s intelligence force. But before he can finish his training, he and his master are called on to defend the kingdom from the dreaded Kalkara.
I read this book aloud to Blaine many years ago. I remembered enjoying the scenes in which Will learns to use a bow and to hide in plain sight, so I recently read it to Larrabee. It’s really aimed at older kids (12+), though. Blaine has read several other books in this series and in the spinoff Brotherband Chronicles.
You’ve probably heard of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. But did you know that it hired Kate Warne as the first female detective in the United States in 1856? And did you know that she and other Pinkerton detectives thwarted a plot to assassinate President-elect Lincoln on his way to his inauguration in 1861?
Kate Hannigan weaves these fascinating true facts into the fictional story of eleven-year-old Nell Warne in The Detective’s Assistant.
Nell is an orphan. Her only chance of staying out of the Chicago Home for the Friendless is to make herself indispensable to her Aunt Kate, one of Mr. Pinkerton’s detectives. Luckily, Nell proves to be both clever and brave. She eagerly dons disguises and helps her aunt solve several dangerous cases. Along the way, she uses her new skills to uncover the truth about her father’s death.
The Detective’s Assistant is perfect for kids who like history and mystery.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia is the story of three sisters who travel from their home in Brooklyn, New York to spend a month in Oakland, California with the mother who abandoned them seven years earlier. It’s set in the summer of 1968.
Blaine and I both enjoyed this book. It refers to some of the same historical events as The Rock and the River (such as the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the imprisonment of Huey Newton), which led to some interesting discussions.
Most of all, we found the characters and their personal relationships compelling. (For more on that, see the craft review that I wrote for the Middle Grade Lunch Break blog.)
If you want to read more about the Gaither sisters, Rita Williams-Garcia has also written two sequels: P.S. Be Eleven (set in Brooklyn) and Gone Crazy in Alabama (set in rural Alabama).
This year’s Newbery award winner is Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Larrabee and I just finished reading it aloud.
The Newbery Medal is awarded by the Association for Library Service to Children for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Recent winners include other favorites of mine, such as The Crossover and The One and Only Ivan.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon is an unusual book with a lyrical, fairytale quality. Larrabee and I loved the characters, especially Fyrian, the Perfectly Tiny Dragon who thinks he’s Simply Enormous, and Xan, the fearsome Witch in the forest who’s actually kind. We were also intrigued by the magic.
I recommend reading this book aloud. It’s a long, complex story with several threads that all come together at the end, and its mysteries are revealed slowly. I think Larrabee might have had trouble following the story if he’d tried reading it to himself. It would make a better independent read for grades 5 and up.
I’ll confess that I usually prefer fiction to non-fiction. But I’m willing to make an exception for Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin. It’s a history of the atomic bomb told with thriller pacing.
Starting with the discovery of nuclear fission in 1938, the book follows three interrelated stories: the American efforts to build a bomb, the Soviet spies’ efforts to steal the bomb design, and the Allies’ efforts to prevent Germany from developing the bomb. Sheinkin does an amazing job of weaving in quotations from primary sources to create an informative and readable narrative.
Blaine enjoyed this book too. More than once, I overheard him telling his dad about something he learned from it. His concise review: Bomb is bomb.
When Larrabee came home from the library last week with a copy of Tom Angleberger‘s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, it brought back memories of a time when my purse was full of folded paper Star Wars characters. When Blaine and his classmates discovered this series four years ago, there were only three books. Now there are six (all with great titles, including my favorite-The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee).
After hearing Larrabee chuckling in the backseat while he read the first book, I had to read it too.
Tommy starts with an important question: Is Origami Yoda real? In other words, even though it’s just a paper finger puppet worn by the weirdest kid in the sixth grade, can he trust its advice? The book consists of the investigative case file that he’s put together by asking his classmates about their interactions with Origami Yoda.
Like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, this book is aimed at a middle school audience but is easy enough for younger kids to read. It’s sweet and funny, though, and Larrabee didn’t seem to mind reading about middle school dances. And the Cheeto Hog and Soapy the Monkey have universal appeal.
The book includes instructions for folding your own Origami Yoda. I’m sure I’ll soon have one or two in my purse, in case you need any advice.
Read this book you must. Laugh you will.