Graphic novels are wildly popular at Larrabee’s school, but he and I generally prefer regular novels. Occasionally, though, we come across a story that is best told in a graphic novel format. New Kid by Jerry Craft is that kind of story.
New Kid is about a 7th grader named Jordan Banks who likes drawing cartoons and playing video games. He hopes go to art school, but his parents insist on sending him to a fancy private school. It’s not easy being the new kid, especially since he’s one of the few kids of color and one of the few kids on financial aid in his class.
During the course of the school year, Jordan confronts racism, privilege, and unfair situations. He also tries new experiences that turn out to be not so bad (such as soccer and abstract art) and makes new friends.
Jordan is a fantastic narrator. Some of the most fun parts of the book are his cartoon commentaries on everything from his dad’s advice on handshakes to his mom’s use of a camera with actual film to the contrast between mainstream and African American book covers (“a thrilling magical tale” vs. “a gritty, urban reminder of the grit of today’s urban grittiness”).
Whether or not you’re a fan of graphic novels, put New Kid on your reading list for this fall.
It’s back-to-school time at our house, and I have the perfect book recommendation for the occasion: The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin. It’s thought-provoking and lots of fun. Larrabee liked it too.
Caitlyn is the new kid in the 7th grade. She’s not happy about leaving her friends in New York behind to move to a small town in Vermont. To make matters worse, her new school has only ten other students, and most of them have known each other since kindergarten. Worst of all, she finds that she’s taken the place of the legendary Paulie Fink, who’s described as a troublemaker, master prankster, and evil genius, and is sorely missed by the rest of the class.
Caitlyn is preoccupied with the unwritten rules of fitting in, but nothing she learned in her previous school seems to apply in this unconventional crowd. Soon, the others convince her to plan and judge a reality show-style contest to name the Next Great Paulie Fink. As she finds her place in this new group, she reevaluates the way she treated other kids in the past.
There are lots of things to like about this book: the way the class’s lessons in Greek philosophy take on surprising relevance to their lives, the 7th graders’ relationships with the “minis” (kindergarteners), all the humorous Paulie stories, and, of course, the goats.
The Newbery winners are always interesting, well-written books. But, let’s face it. Some of them aren’t the type of book you’d choose to read during your last week of summer vacation.
This year’s winner–Merci Suárez Changes Gear by Meg Medina–is an exception. It’s a heart-warming and funny coming-of-age story about an 11-year-old Cuban-American girl. Larrabee and I both enjoyed it.
The story begins on Merci’s first day of sixth grade at Seaward Pines Academy, a fancy private school she attends on a scholarship. The new school year brings a lot of unwelcome changes for Merci. She misses her fifth grade homeroom teacher, she wishes she could still play sports with the boys during recess, and she feels like she’ll never figure out how to get along with Edna, the most popular girl in her class.
Things are changing at home too, where Merci lives with her extended family in three neighboring houses they call Las Casitas. Her older brother is learning to drive and applying to colleges. Merci is asked to take more responsibility for her younger twin nephews. Most importantly, her grandfather, Lolo, who has always been her companion and confidant, seems unusually forgetful lately and sometimes gets angry for no reason. Merci is worried, but no one will tell her what’s wrong.
The story alternates between Merci’s life at school and her life at home during the first half of her sixth grade year, and both parts are equally engaging. My favorite scene is one in which Merci and her classmates make a mummy for their Great Tomb Project in social studies class. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but it will make you wince and giggle.
If you just have time to read one more book this summer, I recommend this one.
My dad is a big Civil War buff, and I grew up among the battlefields of Middle Tennessee, so I was intrigued by a middle grade novel about a twelve-year-old Civil War reenactor. The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody by Matthew Landis did not disappoint. It’s a terrific school friendship story with a historical mystery on the side.
Oliver is an expert on the Civil War, so he’s thrilled about his new social studies project. But then he gets paired with Ella, a girl who never does her homework and is rumored to be failing the 7th grade. To make matters worse, they’re not assigned one of the famous generals he knows so much about. Instead, they’re tasked with researching Private Raymond Stone, a low-ranking soldier who lived near their Pennsylvania town and died of dysentery.
Both Private Stone and Ella turn about to be a lot more surprising–and complicated–than Oliver expected. The same could be said for this book. I recommend it.
If you like sports books as much as I do, you’ll like Takedown by Laura Shovan–even if you’re not a wrestling fan.
Takedown is told from the points of view of two sixth graders who are assigned as partners on their travel wrestling team: Mikayla (a.k.a. Mickey) and Lev.
Mikayla Delgado is from a wrestling family. Both of her older brothers wrestle, and she loves the sport. But it’s not easy being the only girl on the team.
Lev Sofer just missed qualifying for the Maryland state championships last year, and he’s determined to make it this year. But having a girl for a wrestling partner doesn’t seem likely to help.
The wrestling match scenes in this book are gripping, but the book is about a lot more than just sports training and competition. It’s also about Mikayla and Lev’s sometimes complicated relationships with their families and their friends at school. And it’s about their growing friendship with each other. It’s a very enjoyable read for wrestling and non-wrestling fans alike.
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.
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.