If you’re looking for something to read aloud to your kids, I highly recommend Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster by Jonathan Auxier. It’s a wonderful book that will appeal to both kids and adults.
Set in Victorian London, Sweep is the story of an 11-year-old orphan named Nan. Nan was raised by a kindly sweep, who fed her story soup when there was no food and taught her to see the wonder in the world. But when she was six years old, he disappeared, leaving only his hat and a warm lump of char. Since then, she’s worked for a cruel sweep as a climber, a dirty and dangerous job. One day, she’s caught in a chimney fire, and she thinks that’s the end for her. Instead, it’s the beginning of a new adventure with her unlikely savior, a soot golem she names Charlie.
This book is a heartbreaking story about poverty, child labor, anti-Semitism, and sacrifice. It’s also a heartwarming story about friendship, love, and a life of purpose. And it’s a delightful story about Nan and Charlie’s time together in the House of One Hundred Chimneys. Larrabee and I both loved it.
Max and the Midknights is a medieval adventure story by Lincoln Pierce, the author of the Big Nate series.
Max’s Uncle Budrick is a troubadour, who travels around singing, juggling, and playing the lute. And Max is an apprentice troubadour who dreams of being a knight.
When the evil King Gastley forces Uncle Budrick to become his court jester, it’s up to Max and a group of kids who call themselves the Midknights to save the day. To do so, they’ll have to use all their talents and face all sorts of dangers.
Like the Big Nate novels, this story is told in a combination of text and comic panels. It’s fast-paced and funny with everything you could want in a medieval adventure from swords to sorcery to dragons. Larrabee and I both liked it a lot.
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!