Summer Reading: Part Four

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My final summer reading list is for middle school readers, the kids “in between” middle grade and young adult books. The eight books listed below include characters and dialogue unique to the experience of kids ages 12 to 14.

The Green Bicycle by Haifaa Al-Mansour  (A repeat from last year’s list, but one students always enjoy.  A timely and inspiring novel – based on an excellent movie called Wadjda.  The story of a young girl who wants a bicycle.  Simple enough, right? But she lives in Saudi Arabia where it’s considered improper for a girl to ride a bike.  It would be fun to read the book and then have a movie night!)

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng (I included this book on my last post. It’s on my list of books for middle grade readers, and I would recommend it to adults as well. This is a story about family and friends. A common theme in an uncommonly memorable book.)

Posted by John David Anderson (The perfect book for social media enthusiasts.  After cell phones are banned at school, kids begin leaving messages on Post-it notes which, because they are displayed for all to see, are often more hurtful.)

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall (Pearsall’s novel was published in 2015, and it’s become one of the books I hand to middle school students who are struggling to find a good book – one they will want to keep reading.  Pearsall’s novel hasn’t failed me yet!  Set in 1963, The Seventh Most Important Thing is the story of Arthur, a 13-year-old boy, who learns seven important lessons while helping a local “junk man” with his artistic masterpiece.)

York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby  (The first installment of a new series, set in an alternative New York City)

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge (500 pages of high fantasy and imaginative word play.  Link to the Guardian’s glowing review:

https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2016/jul/07/a-face-like-glass-frances-hardinge-review

Refugee by Alan Gratz (This book will be published on July 25, but I recommended it to several of our students as an August read. Three young refugees from three different times and places: Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo. It’s on my August list!)

Literally by Lucy Keating (Maybe an unexpected choice for this list.  Literally is a smart beach book that plays with the conventions of the young adult romance.)

To prepare Inly’s summer reading list, I read lots of novels and early chapter books.  After the list was distributed, what I most craved was ….a picture book!  I looked for something new and beautiful, a book that stands out on the shelf, and here it is:

The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton is magical from the end pages to the final scene. Erin, the little girl at the center of the story, lives in an idyllic seaside town with her “mum” and her dog, Archie. Erin desperately wants to “go out to sea,” but she can’t because of a scary black rock.  Everyone in town warns her to stay away from the rock which, naturally, makes Erin even more curious.  Ultimately, she finds a way to learn the truth, and it turns out to be quite lovely. School ended a few days ago, and I’m already planning to make The Secret of Black Rock our first read aloud in September!

During the last couple weeks of school, there are lots of events involving singing and speeches and ceremonies.  But the nicest hour, in my opinion, is the quiet that comes over the campus during Drop Everything and Read.  While everyone was reading, I walked around the silent campus and found readers on couches, under counters, and many other creative spaces…

Happy Reading!

Happy Summer!

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Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

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A few months ago I read a young adult book about love. A common enough subject – but Nicola Yoon’s debut novel, Everything, Everything is different. It’s not only about love between two young people experiencing its joys and challenges for the first time, but other kinds of love as well.

Maddy is a 17-year-old – half Japanese and half African-American – girl who has never gone to school or the mall or to a friend’s birthday party. She has a rare disease that requires her to live indoors in a climate-controlled apartment. I was thinking about similarities to The Fault in Our Stars as I started reading, but Yoon’s novel is something different.

As Tolstoy said, “All great literature is one of two stories: a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” So I knew that Maddy’s unquestioning acceptance of her situation was going to be challenged when a “stranger”  (in the form of a new family moving next door) “comes to town.” Among the family members is Olly, the first boy Maddy has ever known.

I wondered how Yoon was going to connect Rapunzel with her neighbor, but seeing each other through a window solves that problem. And it’s not long before Olly holds up a sign with his email address for Maddy to see.  She writes first: “Hello. I guess we should start with introductions? My name is Madeleine Whittier, but you can tell that from my e-mail address. What’s yours?”  And that’s it – a conversation and a challenge begin.

Yoon fills her novel with e-mails and IM messages and Maddy’s health charts and schedules and lots of other stuff which provide energy and immediacy to the story. I found myself turning the pages faster and faster to see how this impossible situation was going to resolve itself. But there are some twists and turns along the way.

Everything, Everything will be published on September 1. I recommend it to readers ages 13 and over because spoiler alert: they find a way to get together!

Yoon’s novel was just given a starred review from Kirkus and it is the September selection of the Parnassus (Ann Patchett’s independent bookstore in Nashville) Young Adult Book Club.

 

Three Books and Two Paintings….

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It was a strange reading week. Not bad, just unexpected. I had the week off from school so my expectations (and my “to read” pile) were high!  As it turns out, I read one young adult novel, two excellent picture books, and lots of magazine articles that were beginning to collect dust.

Here are the highlights – and two paintings….

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Growing Up Pedro by Matt Tavares

I work in a school library in Greater Boston so of course, this new picture book was on my list.  Tavares’s new book is as much about the love between Pedro and his older brother, Ramon, as it is about baseball. The book opens in 1981 in the Dominican Republic where Pedro “sits in the shade and watches the older boys play.”  It’s Ramon, a pitcher, who is the baseball star of the Martinez family, and when he moves to Los Angeles to play for the Dodgers, Pedro is motivated to practice harder and join his big brother. Of course, he does – and he gets to play alongside Ramon for a few seasons. But Pedro, becomes the bigger star – a member of the Hall of Fame, an eight-time All Star, and three-time winner of the Cy Young Award. This is a warm book about the love between two brothers with big dreams. My bet is that this one will be checked out within an hour of putting it on display!

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The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc

This is a book with very few words – and it is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. It’s about everything – the passage of time, the seasons and growth, and above all, the rewards of friendship. There is a page with nine words that made me feel genuinely heartbroken. As the title says, the story is about a lion and a bird. It’s a fall day and Lion is working in his garden when he sees a bird with a hurt wing. “Let’s bandage you up,” says Lion “That will help.”  During the bird’s convalescence, his flock leaves, but the Lion invites him to stay for the winter. After one of the coziest picture book winters I’ve ever seen on the page, the birds return and that’s when the sad scene takes place. There is a happy ending so no worries about a sad child (or adult). But here’s the best part of Dubuc’s book – as spare as it is, it’s one to return to again and again. I definitely will.

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Mosquitoland by David Arnold

This is the young adult novel I read this week – and although I didn’t read as many books as I planned, I picked the right one. Wow – this one will stick with me.  Mosquitoland is a road trip novel. The traveler is sixteen-year-old Mary Iris Malone who goes by Mim. She is traveling from her father’s house in Mississippi (Mosquitoland) to her mother in Cleveland.  Mim is convinced that her father and stepmother are keeping something important from her so she hits the road. Of course, there are bumps along the way and some shady characters. There is also humor, a bit of romance – and life lessons. To be clear, there are some serious issues addressed here: sexual assault, intellectual disabilities, depression and violence. Overall, Arnold’s novel is bighearted and generous and Mim’s journey is one of self discovery, but I recommend it to mature teens.

And the art….

I took these pictures at the Cape Ann Museum. They are both by Charles Hopkinson, a Boston painter who lived between 1869 and 1962.

This one looks like the cover of a Henry James novel….

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And this one could be the cover of a Louisa May Alcott book…

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Addison Stone and a Report from the Halloween Parade….

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Last night I finished reading The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin – the perfect Halloween weekend novel: a tragic ghost story about a girl who, after she dies, continues to exert power over everyone in her sphere. A fictional “biography” of a teenager from small town Rhode Island who becomes a star of the Manhattan art world, Griffin’s novel addresses fame, mental illness, and the high stakes art world in this multi-voiced novel. As the book begins, Addison Stone has already died in mysterious circumstances. What follows is a series of interviews, media coverage, artwork, and e-mails that give contradictory reports of Addison’s life. Ultimately, Addison remains somewhat unknowable, but the people who suffer or benefit from their relationship with her come sharply into focus. I would recommend this book to readers 14 and over.

The Inly Halloween parade was festive as always – and there were a few book-themed costumes among the characters from Frozen, aliens, and witches:

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Finally, a funny story from one of our parents: Her six-year-old daughter was trying to describe a book she wanted to buy at our recent book fair. She couldn’t recall the title, but she remembered the cover:

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Here’s the book she wanted – not bad, right?

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The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell

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Fifty years ago, in June of 1964,  three young and idealistic civil rights workers were murdered by the KKK. The three young men were in Mississippi to register African Americans to vote as part of a statewide campaign. The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell is a riveting and essential account of the events leading to the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner – and should be in the collection of every middle and high school.

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I  pay special attention to good books about the Civil Rights Movement because our middle school students focus on that pivotal time during their history studies. Mitchell’s book caught my attention after reading several glowing reviews, but admittedly, when I read more about Mitchell, it was his biography that sparked my interest. Don Mitchell – from Kettering, Ohio – began his career in the office of Senator John Glenn. One of the books most often displayed at the Inly Library is Liftoff: A Photobiography of John Glenn by Don Mitchell. I consider it my responsibility – and a pleasure – to be sure Inly students learn about the first American to orbit the earth, U.S. Senator, and one of Ohio’s most famous  sons. During college, I spent a summer interning in Senator Glenn’s Washington office which ultimately led to my first job after graduating. I contacted Don Mitchell to learn more about his new book, and he graciously agreed to answer a few questions about The Freedom Summer Murders:

SS: What drew you to this particular set of events?

DM: I have been aware of the Chaney, Goodman, Schwerner murders from an early age. At my high school in Kettering, I took a course in black history and learned about this case in more depth. When I went on to attend Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, I frequently studied at the university’s Western Campus, which used to be the Western College for Women. It’s a beautiful, tranquil place. I often thought of the Freedom Summer volunteers who trained there in 1964. I was drawn to this story of young people taking such a huge risk to help others and fight for social justice. When I was casting about for a new book idea several years ago, I realized the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer was approaching and I decided it would be a good time to explore this important story.

SS: You clearly spent a lot of time talking with people and reading firsthand accounts of the events of June 1964. Did anything you learn surprise you? Any challenges or “roads” you didn’t expect to travel?

DM: One of my primary objectives was to interview people who knew James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. In most published accounts of this story, there is very little about their lives and backgrounds. I wanted to tell their individual stories more fully, and explore what made these three young men such caring individuals, and how they became involved in civil rights. These interviews were the most interesting part of my research. I was struck, but not surprised, by how deeply they felt the loss of their loved ones, and how vivid that sense of loss was almost 50 years after their murders.

SS: What books do you admire?

DM: I’ve always been interested in biographies. It’s a great way to learn about the lives of interesting people, as well as understand the times in which they lived. I also love anything written by E.B. White; not just his books for young people (e.g., Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little), but his letters and essays. In addition to being a great literary stylist, his writing is witty and insightful.

SS: Is there a next book being planned?

DM: I have a young adult nonfiction book proposal that is currently under consideration at several publishing houses. Hopefully, there will be interest before long — I’m anxious to begin a new project.

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As regular readers know, I consider Charlotte’s Web to be one of the greatest novels ever written – so it was a thrill to read about Don’s admiration for E.B. White.

 

Zero Tolerance by Claudia Mills

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I’m so happy to be reviewing books for School Library Journal!  This month’s issue includes my first review for the monthly magazine. Here it is:

As a member of the Leadership Club and an honor student at LongwoodMiddle School, Sierra Shepard helped create the banner announcing the school’s creed: “Rules, Respect, Responsibility and Reliability.” The school has established an iron-clad zero tolerance policy on weapons, but when Sierra accidentally takes her mother’s lunch bag to school, she finds it contains a paring knife. A loyal rule-follower, Sierra turns the knife in to the office, assuming that her spotless record will exempt her from the consequences of breaking a rule. That is not the case. Sierra begins a week-long in-school suspension during which she questions her assumptions about following rules, her classmates, and her parents and school administrators. Sierra also reexamines her feelings about Luke Bishop, the school “bad boy” who is more complex and interesting than she thought. Sierra is a realistic and appealing character whose story will resonate with students who enjoy stories about school and friends. The novel could also spark a discussion about the slippery nature of rules and how they are enforced. Unlike Claudia Mills’s school-based novels for younger readers, Zero Tolerance includes mild swear words scattered  throughout the book, but they seem genuine to the age of the characters. A compelling novel for middle school age readers.

One other thing for you today….

Inly’s school year has ended and our students are hopefully at home poring over their new summer reading list!  So many books, so little time…

A link to the list of books for ages 3 to 14:

http://www.inlyschool.org/userfiles/files/summer_reading_2013_final.pdf

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

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Not too long ago, on a flight between Boston and Dallas, I had the good fortune to sit next to a fellow book lover. As we flew across most of the country, we talked about favorite books and the titles in our “to read” piles. One book she recommended was This Is What Happy Looks Like, a young adult novel by Jennifer E. Smith. The title stood out because I had seen a few references to it, and as the summer drew near, I saw it on several summer reading lists. I finally had a chance to read it, and can tell you that if someone had walked onto our deck this afternoon and seen me reading Smith’s novel, they would have known “what happy looks like.” You can’t help smiling while reading the book. It’s so summery that it should come with suntan lotion and a cold beverage. But…don’t be mistaken. I’m not saying “beach read” to signal some kind of guilty pleasure without much true merit. Smith is really good. Even though I’m an adult reader who knew exactly how it would end (don’t you?), I still found myself racing to the end.

I knew it was going to be good from the first page. The novel opens with an e-mail exchange between Graham Larkin and Ellie O’Neill, the two main characters. Graham, a teenage movie star, is writing to ask a friend to take care of his pet pig….Wilbur!  How can you not love a character who has a pig named after Charlotte’s Web. Graham’s e-mail included a typo in the address box which results in his message landing in Ellie’s in-box. Ellie lives in a small town Maine with her mother, but the teenagers begin a cross-country correspondence which becomes meaningful to both of them. It isn’t long before Graham uses his star power to arrange for his film to be shot on location in the land of lobsters and blueberries.

This Is What Happy Looks Like is a delicious book. The local ice cream shop is called Sprinkles which kind of sums up the whole vibe.  What I particularly enjoyed is that the story is told from both Graham’s and Ellie’s points of view, giving the reader a peek into how each of them see their budding romance and their misunderstandings. 

One other thing that will make you happy is this article from the Los Angeles Times Review of Books. I stumbled on it while reading different summer reading lists – one of my hobbies. It’s called “Ten Things I Learned from Loving Anne of Green Gables.”  Written by Sarah Mesle, it is just a lovely piece of writing. This excerpt is a good example:

When I talk about loving Anne with dear friends who also love Anne, we are not advocating particular novels so much as we are describing loving words, loving the past, loving names, loving Megan Follows, loving and being loved by your friends even when they don’t fully understand you, loving reading in the corner at a slumber party while everyone else watches TV, loving a long walk, loving, most of all, the ability to find a sense of place. What we are saying is that Anne was our wardrobe, our tornado — our portal to the capacity within ourselves to make the mundane world magical.”

Those words me want to cry. Mesle describes exactly what good books do – they make the “mundane world magical.”  Here’s a link to the article:

http://lareviewofbooks.org/article.php?type=&id=1723&fulltext=1&media=#article-text-cutpoint