I read two perfect middle grade books this week. They should be on every list: holiday ideas, next year’s summer reading, award recipients, library recommendations – you get the idea!
The two books are – Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm and Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier.
Full of Beans is so colorful and lively that it seems to bounce off the page. The voice of the young narrator, Beans Curry, is pitch perfect, and the Key West setting make Holm’s new novel a delight from the first page:
Look here, Mac. I’m gonna give it to you straight: grown-ups lie.
Sure, they like to say that kids make things up and that we don’t tell the truth. But they’re the lying liars.
Take President Roosevelt. He’s been saying on the radio that the economy was improving, when anyone with two eyes could see the only thing getting better was my mother’s ability to patch holes in pants. Not that she had a choice. There was no money for new threads with Poppy out of work. It was either that or let us go naked.”
From there, Beans and his friends are in charge – and the reader gladly tags along. The chapters are episodic and follow Bean’s adventures as he tries to make money by collecting empty cans and later by working with a man whose money making schemes get Beans involved with something that he later regrets. There’s also a New Dealer in town checking out Key West’s potential as a tourist destination, a feisty (and kind of mean) grandmother, and Bean’s friends with awesome names like Pork Chop. There is even a cameo by Ernest Hemingway!
On the very first day of school, kids asked me when we would have Ghosts, Raina Telgemeier’s new graphic novel. By this past Tuesday, when the library had three copies, there was a waiting list. When a student returns Ghosts (after reading it overnight), their expressions give them away – it was worth waiting for!
The narrator of Ghosts is Cat, a girl who, at the opening of the story, is moving with her family to Bahia de la Luna on the Northern Coast of California. The family has left Southern California because Cat’s younger sister, Maya, has cystic fibrosis, and they hope the sea air will help her breathe. Soon after arriving, the girls meet Carlos, a neighbor who introduces them to the world of “ghosts,” not as something to be feared, but as “ancient ghosts, dead for centuries.” While Maya embraces the adventure and is enthusiastic about ghosts, Cat is frightened – both for herself and for her sister who she fears may join them.
After an outing with Cat and Carolos to visit the ghosts, Maya is hospitalized, and Cat blames herself. As her sister recuperates, Cat meets a group of new friends who invite her to join them for the town’s elaborate Day of the Dead celebrations – forcing her to come literally face to face with the dead. The subject matter of Ghosts is not typical for a middle grade novel, and quite frankly, I’m wondering about all of those 2nd and 3rd graders who are going to check it out. I’m not suggesting that I would keep it from them, only that they will read a “different” book. Telgemeier’s book is big. It’s about life and death, our fears, and our love for our families. I would recommend it to my friends as a way to grapple with loss. Most of all, I’m amazed by the depth of Telgemeier’s talent. Ghosts is a beautiful book in every way.
Finally – a few pictures to share….
The kids are making themselves comfortable in our new library. One of the boys in the picture below said to me – “You are so lucky….you can sit here and read all day!”
In our new think tank, you can write on the walls and the tables. While meeting with a group of students this past week, I saw two girls writing lists of their favorite books….
And in one of our classrooms, after reading Extra Yarn, a group of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders made wonderful yarn art.