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.
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.
If you like stories about math, shelter dogs, or middle school friendships, you should check out The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty. Larrabee and I both enjoyed it.
Twelve-year-old Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning when she was in 2nd grade. The damage to her brain turned her into a mathematical genius and also left her with some obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Since then, she’s been home schooled by her grandmother, and she happily spends most of her free time in an on-line math forum (where she’s known as LightningGirl).
She wants to take on-line college courses starting in the fall, but her grandmother has other plans. She’s sending Lucy to public middle school. All she asks is that Lucy try it for one year, make one friend, do one thing outside the apartment, and read one book about something other than math or economics. (Lucy notes that this year is brought to you by the number “1”).
But all that is not as easy as it sounds for Lucy. In addition to navigating English class and the middle school lunchroom, she’ll have to complete a community service project with two or three other 7th graders. It turns out, though, that her friendship with Windy and Levi and her volunteer work with the Pet Hut and a dog named Cutie Pi (π!) are the best things that could have happened to her.
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is an engaging read, with short chapters, good pacing, and plenty of funny and heart-warming parts. Highly recommend!
Masterminds is the first book in a thrilling trilogy by Gordon Korman. Larrabee loved it and insisted that I drop everything and read it.
Eli Frieden lives in Serenity, New Mexico, an isolated and idyllic town with a population of 185. Eli’s dad is the school principal and the mayor and reminds him often how lucky he is to live in a community with no crime and no poverty.
One day, his best friend suggests that they ride their bikes out of Serenity, something Eli’s never done in all his thirteen years. When they get to the town limits, though, Eli starts to feel sick. Before they know it, they’ve been rescued by the local security force (nicknamed Purple People Eaters by the kids) in a helicopter. A few days later, Eli’s friend is shipped off to live with his grandparents in Colorado, but he leaves a note where only Eli can find it: “There’s something screwy going on in that town.”
The story of what’s really going on beneath Serenity’s perfect facade is told through the point of view of five different kids. I don’t want to spoil any of the plot twists, so I’ll just say that Masterminds has a mix of action, mystery, and suspense that’s rare in middle grade books.
The other two books in the series are Criminal Destiny and Payback, and Larrabee highly recommends them too. He says the series gets better and better!
The Wishmakers by Tyler Whitesides is a very funny book about wishes and their consequences.
One day, twelve-year-old Ace opens a peanut butter jar without reading the fine print and releases a genie named Ridge. The good news: He’s now a Wishmaker and may make as many wishes as he likes. The bad news: For every wish, the Universe imposes a consequence and he has just thirty seconds to decide whether to accept. The worse news: The Universe has given him a quest, and unless he completes it in seven days, all the world’s cats and dogs will turn into zombies.
Things get even more complicated when he meets Tina and Jathon, other young Wishmakers with quests of their own that seem to conflict with his. And things get more complicated still as they make more and more wishes with consequences on top of consequences (which may last for an hour, a day, a week, or forever). For example, at one point, whenever anyone says Tina’s name, she claps, and whenever anyone claps, Ace’s shoelace comes untied. Ace also accepts a day without his left arm, a week without being able to read, and a lifetime with a green tongue. It all adds up to a fast-paced and zany adventure.
Larrabee and I both enjoyed this book and are looking forward to the sequel, The Wishbreaker. It’s coming soon!