Middle grade novels are wonderful, but I’ve had a steady diet of them for the past six weeks, and I’m looking forward to a summer filled with all of the “adult books” that have been piling up on my nightstand (and on the floor around it). I’m preparing to talk to kids about their summer reading selections and selecting novels for Buttonwood’s summer book club so my head is filled with eleven and twelve-year-olds having adventures, learning about their families, exploring new places, discovering social justice issues, and navigating friendships. Although many of them are excellent, there’s one that stands out: The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty.
“Lightning Girl” is twelve-year-old Lucy Callahan who was struck by lightning when she was eight. The resulting brain damage results in acquired savant syndrome which, as I learned, can happen when someone has brain trauma and suddenly has new abilities. In Lucy’s case, she becomes a math genius. It’s kind of incredible actually. She recites pi to the 314th decimal and can solve any equation on the spot. Of course, she can pass middle school and begin taking college classes, but her grandmother, with whom Lucy lives, makes a condition before Lucy leapfrogs over middle school. She wants her granddaughter to: try middle school for one year, make a new friend, and try a new activity. Of course, Lucy figures out that not everything is as neatly resolved as a math problem, but more powerful than the “lesson” of the book is Lucy’s voice, distinctive and genuine. I liked her – and the supporting cast of characters – right away, and I didn’t want to leave Lucy when the book was over.
Completely different, but equally powerful, is The Button War by Avi. I reviewed this one for School Library Journal, and here’s an excerpt of my review:
“Avi’s intense and cautionary novel is a psychological thriller set in a hardscrabble Polish village during World War I. Patryk, the 12-year-old narrator, is one of a group of boys who meet nightly at the village water pump to share news and plan adventures, most of which are harmless dares. But on the night the Germans drop a bomb on the local schoolhouse, their lives are changed forever. A troubled boy named Jurek, whose parents died years earlier and who lives with his older sister, challenges his friends to steal the shiniest and most intricately designed military button. The winner, according to Jurek, will be the king. The king of what is unimportant to Jurek, a boy anxious to have control over something in his life….Avi has written a compelling and tautly constructed book that is a portal to grappling with the complexity of the human instinct to compete.”
A third grade student brought this to the Library this week. She wrote a message in binary code, and fortunately she included the letters on the side. The message which you can read in whichever language you choose, reads: I am reading a really good book.
Two more pictures to share….
First, one of Inly’s Children’s House teachers sent this to me after recess one day last week:
Sometimes I read a picture book to the middle school students at the beginning of class. It’s a quiet way for everyone to settle. Last week one of the 8th grade students asked if she could read:
The book she’s reading is Florette by Anna Walker – a story about blooming where you are planted.