Fagan, Cary. Banjo of Destiny.
Jeremiah's parents have risen from humble beginnings to being the owners of a hugely profitable dental floss dispenser company, and are trying to afford Jeremiah all the advantages their wealth can provide. He goes to an elite private school, and takes lessons on etiquette and classical music so that he can fit in with the well-to-do. He is allowed to hang around with his friend, who is a scholarship student, but is given very little choice in the rest of his life. When he hears a man playing the banjo, he decides to build his own instrument, since his parents consider the mastery of this instrument déclassé. Building and studying the instrument despite their objections, he gets to be rather good and decides to participate in the school talent show.
Strengths: It has a lot of tips on how to build your own banjo, and for younger students (this is a tiny book) might be inspirational on how to effectively make your own choices.
Weaknesses: Not much happened. This has been described almost everywhere as "gentle", and if there is anything that students don't ask for, it would be gentle reads!
GUY FRIDAY ANNOUNCEMENT: I've finally gotten the pages filled in with reading lists. I will be updating the humor list, but the other ones will hopefully be helpful. Please e mail if there is a list you would like to see posted.
Random Blather: Open letter to authors of middle grade fiction everywhere: Yesterday, a 6th grader brought up a Lucy B. Parker book up to me with a very red face and said "Ms. Yingling, I really don't think this book is appropriate for me." "No problem," I replied. "Just return it." "But I thought you should know it had this..." she said, as she turned the page and pointed to a word.
It was "boobs".
How do you think this child would have reacted to the f-bomb?
So it's not just me. Publishers, if you want to increase your sales, think about language and content. There are a lot of YA books that would be great for 6th graders if they just had one or two words and a small situation removed. I personally don't have a problem with the word "boobs", not that it's something I use in everyday conversation. Or the boy's physical reaction in Sidekicks, since it is delicately described. But few adults are going to hand an eleven year old a book rife with foul language and teens having sex or using alcohol and drugs. Call us crazy, but I don't think I'm alone here.