So here is a conversation I have about three times a week with one of my 6th graders:
"Do you have any books that are like Wimpy Kid?"
"Yes. Quite a lot. However, they are all checked out but Stan and the Toilet Monster and book two of the Potterwookie series. Why don't you try a short, funny book like Weeks' Guy Time."
"I only like books with pictures."
"Yes, but even though I have bought every single one that has been published in the last ten years, they are all checked out. How about Dragonbreath?"
"I only like books set in schools."
"How about some Andrew Clements' books."
"I only like books with pictures."
"How about some graphic novels?"
"They have too many pictures."
At this point, I seriously want to jump on the counter and scream "You're in middle school! Not all of the books have pictures. In fact, I have SIX THOUSAND perfectly good books that don't!!!"
I'm not one of those teachers who forbid "comic books". Really. I do have quite a good collection. Multiple copies of the Great Literary Work of Our Time, Stick Dog Wants a Hot Dog. But at what point do readers need to diversify? Move on? Grow up?
Until I figure this out, I am trying my best to be supportive of these desires. In fact, when I had this conversation, I was able to show the student that I had just checked out the following book from the public library, and even gave him the check out slip so he could request the book himself. I'll be buying two copies (jacketed hardcover instead of paper-over-boards!!!), but won't have them until August.
Myer, Andy. Henry Hubble's Book of Troubles
February 10th 2015 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Henry (who was named after William Henry Harrison, and is a bit obsessed with him, as well as a bottle of dog poop reportedly from Harrison's dog), has a knack for getting in trouble, and we follow him through a school year of his illustrated escapades.
Strengths: Upbeat, mildly amusing, nothing objectionable. Pictures.
Weaknesses: Nothing particularly artful in the way of plot of character development. Not Tashjian's My Life as a Book, but okay.
Vaught, Susan. Footer Davis is Probably Crazy
March 3rd 2015 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
After Footer's (nee Fontana) mother injures herself shooting a snake with an elephant gun from Footer's father's gun collection, she ends up in the hospital. Due to her poorly managed bipolar disorder, she is transferred to a psychiatric facility. Footer's father is an emergency dispatch operator, but good neighbors of theirs, the Joneses, watch out for her. Peavine Jones, who uses crutches because of his cerebral palsy, is her best friend. His father is gone, so he understands Footer's difficulties in missing her mother. TO complicate matters further, other neighbors had a horrific incident-- a grandfather who is raising his two grandchildren was shot and killed, his house set on fire, and now the two children, Doc and Cissy, are missing. Footer and Peavine interview people about the incident because Footer would like to be an investigative reporter, but Footer starts to think that perhaps she was there the night of the fire, and suspects that she may be descending into the same sort of mental illness her mother has. She alarms her teachers with reports on serial killers, triggers the attention of children's services, and ultimately does find out the cause of the fire and the fate of the children.
Strengths: This was a decent mystery, with a lot of diversity in it. Can't think of too many characters in middle grade literature with cerebral palsy, although the disturbing Rune Michaels' title, Nobel Genes, as well as Selfors' Mad Love do involve mothers with bipolar disorder. There are a lot of people supporting Footer, and things turn out as well as they can.
Weaknesses: There's a LOT going on for one book. The storyline with Footer's mother could be an entire book, as could the mystery. Throw in Peavine's problems, and this has a high level of sadness. There's even a neighbor with PTSD.
What I really think: This is why I don't live in the south! My apologies to everyone who lives there, but I couldn't do it. Humidity? Snakes everywhere? Neighbors who keep tons of fire arms, even if they're locked up? People named Footer and Peavine? Ugh. I'm still debating purchasing this book, but again, my students want humorous books, not this level of depression and sadness.