Monday, July 30, 2012
Middle Grade Monday-- Problems
Happy Marvelous Middle Grade Monday! Head over to Shannon Whitney Messenger's Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe for a list of bloggers who participate! Here are two books that I can see being nominated for the Cybils in Middle Grade Fiction. Both would be good to read with classes, although the sad and serious tone of both make them less likely that students will pick them up for fun.
7 February 2012, Katherine Tegen Books
Jake's grandfather Billy is 88 years old, but Jake, who is ten, doesn't worry that his grandfather will die. They have a lot of fun together, hanging out on the family farm, talking about the way that things were when Billy was young, and watching the prarie. When Billy becomes ill and is hospitalized, Jake decides that he will build a sod house like the one his grandfather lived in when he was a boy. With the help of some books and his family, he manages to recreate the sod house. Billy's health improves enough to come home, and he is very pleased with the effort that Jake has put into making him happy. Spoilers below if you still think you will be surprised at the ending.
Strengths: MacLachlan is much beloved by teachers, and she does some very moving books. For younger or reluctant readers, this one is slim but packed full of emotion.
Weaknesses: ***SPOILER*** Billy passes away at the end. I almost hoped for a minute that he wouldn't-- it's obvious that he will die eventually and I would rather have seen the book end with him being happy in the sod house.
8 May 2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
June loves spending the summer in her small Vermont town and helping out with her mom's shop, where June occasionally sells her pies. She loves baking and wants to enter the local pie competition with an amazing new combination of fruit, but her mother doesn't want her to enter the competition. Why? Her mother is getting married to Eva, and the small community is not entirely accepting of this. June is not all that crazy about Eva, either. June's mother wants to keep her out of the spotlight. A "Take Back Vermont" group is instigating a boycott of gay-owned businesses, which hurts the shop's business, but it's also hard for June and her mother to accept help when people come to their store to support them. June enters the pie competition in the adult division, which doesn't require a parental signature. All of the problems swirling around her affect her friendship with Tina and Luke as well, especially since she is starting to think of Luke in a more romantic fashion. In the end, several events occur that help June see that she can't let other people's criticism affect her too deeply.
Strengths: Very well-paced, realistic account of the prejudices that gay couples face, and the effect that it has on their children. So many middle grade books have completely absent parents that it is a nice change to show how parents' problems can have an impact of children.
Weaknesses: This is a very short, small book (119) pages, but since the print is also rather tiny, I would have increased that size and made the book bigger. It looks more like an elementary book, but June is 12, and her worries about her place in the community would be better understood by middle school students. Jennifer at Jean Little Library brought this book to my attention, and has good comments on how to gauge community response to this. The political nature of this might have some parents up in arms even though there is nothing objectionable about the book... unless the reader hates homosexuals on principle. Then there's a problem. I will probably buy the book because of June-- this is a book about her and how her circumstances affect her life and friendships.