While Andrew North is geared more toward readers younger than fifth grade, I had to buy a copy because Adam Selzer is so funny. Third-grader Andrew firmly believes that his father and older brother are spies, and when he is older, he will learn their ways. To warm up, he sneaks into his brother's room and steals his scientific calculator. Fooling around with it at school, he not only causes it to have a number fit (thereby thinking that perhaps it will blow up the world), but gets it taken away and locked in the evil janitor's closet for the weekend. Hoping to break it out during a school concert, Andrew goes through a series of hysterical machinations toward that end, and is ultimately somewhat successful. For older readers, Andrew's extreme naivete takes a bit of suspension of disbelief, but the writing has such wonderful characters and turns-of-phrase that even middle schoolers will laugh out loud. As always, Selzer does terrific adults-- funny, but not taking over the story. Selzer's other books (How to Get Suspended and Influence People, Pirates of the Retail Wasteland, I Put a Spell on You) are more geared to older students, but Andrew North is more tightly written-- never a dull moment or misstep. A must have for elementary libraries, and great for middle school as well.
Argh! I loved, loved, loved Julie Halpern's Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, but if you asked me what line can be crossed that makes a book NOT middle school appropriate, I would have to say that a girl getting gonorrhea from, ah-- yeah, gonorrhea would be one of the lines. Jessie's two best friends want attention so badly that they morph into goth chicks over the summer. Jessie's brother and his band are also goth-like, and when one friend puts the move on the boy that Jessie has liked for years, Jessie feels a need to move on. She enjoys talking to "loser" Dottie in study hall, finds out that they have a lot in common, and ends up joining Dottie's Dungeons and Dragons group, even though she worries that this will make her a nerd. I loved Jessie's wild print skirts, the dissection of different types of people in high school, realistic consequences for sexual activity, and especially the brother's cheerleader girlfriend whose mother teacher women's studies. Too funny. Still. Clearly high school. Drat.
Miranda's life is a little confusing. Her mother is trying to practice for a game show with the help of her boyfriend, her friend Sal is being bullied by a boy, and Miranda keeps getting weird notes that seem to know about things before they happen. Since she is reading L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, she tries to figure everything out before future tragedies occur. With good characters, fast pacing, and an intriguing premise, Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me has "award winner" written all over it. This is normally a bad thing, but I wouldn't feel as bad if this book won an award. I wanted to like this more than I did-- it involved time travel, the late 70s, and L'Engle, but since there was something anachronistic and slightly confusing about the writing style, and I'm unsure how students will react to this. Can see it being used for Battle of the Books-- it would certainly engender some good discussions.
Really confused by Leonard Marcus' Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy. (Brought to my attention by Jen Robinson.)Excellent book, great interviews with authors that I liked a lot, and a great grasp of the fact that kids like funny books. Confusion stems from two things: Marcus is billed as "one of the most respected writers about children's literature", and I have NEVER heard of him. Also, while I really like the authors he discusses, many of them either aren't what I would consider humorous writers, or aren't writers that children read any more. (Anne Fine? Dick King-Smith? Even Judy Blume is hard to push, which is not a surprise considering that Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, was written in 1970, before many of the children's parents were born!) This makes it more a book for teachers and librarians, who are familiar with these authors, instead of a book that children would like. Humor without Gordon Korman, Jordan Sonnenblick, or the aforementioned Adam Selzer? Anne Fine instead of Louise Rennison? Norton Juster (author of my most favorite book EVER) instead of Dan Gutman? Liked the book-- just don't get the motivation.
Finally (and yesterday was an intense night of reading!) I picked up Robert Westall's (1929-1993) The Machine Gunners. My copy is a first American edition, from 1975, and is in dire need of some glue! It appears to be out of print, but still circulates very well in my library. There is good reason-- Westall would have been the age of the characters during the time the book is set. Chas and his town are feeling the effect of the Blitz; nights are spent in shelters, neighbors die, buildings are bombed. When Chas and his friends find a crashed plane with a machine gun on the back, they decide that their town needs this in case of invasion, remove the machine gun, and build their own headquarters. When a they capture a German pilot, their preparations are put to good use, although with not the best ending. Rich in details of every day life, rife with munitions and soldiers, this might be too much for the casual reader of World War II fiction, but I can see why my hard-core readers like this one. First person accounts still resonate-- Tunis' Silence over Dunkerque just went out yesterday, and the student was enjoying it.