Sunday, October 02, 2016

Sadness leaking down to elementary school

I know that middle grade books have been getting progressively sad, and to be fair, I've had some new 6th graders whose teachers read Wonder to them ask for sad books. Still, now I'm seeing books geared toward 3rd to 5th graders that are getting me down. Just not my thing. If anything is described as "tender" or "timeless", the 12 year old boy I have become wants to hurl. 

23208632Beasley, Kate. Gertie's Leap to Greatness
October 4th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC available at Netgalley and Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Gertie is bound and determined to be "great". The book starts with her resuscitating a bullfrog and taking it to school in a shoebox so that she has the best summer story to tell. Unfortunately, 5th grade is marred by the appearance of a new girl, Mary Sue, whose father is a film director in town with a famous kid star. Gertie wants to be phenomenal so that her mother, who walked out when Gertie was very young, notices her before she moves away from town. Gertie tries being the best student, being the star of the class play, and just about anything else she can, but her innate personality works against her. When Mary Sue's mother, an environmental lobbyist, speaks to the class about trying to shut down the oil rigs on which Gertie's father works, she realizes that she needs to be great for many reasons, even if her mother still ignores her. 
Strengths: I loved that Gertie had a nontraditional family (her aunt lives with her and her father) that is still very supportive. The teacher is also portrayed as generally fair, even when Gertie points out an incident where she was NOT fair. The fighting with Mary Sue is very on point, as was the fight with a former best friend who aligned herself with Mary Sue. 
Weaknesses: I disliked Gertie. She did not come across as a sympathetic character to me. Others (who like Hollis Woods and other unpleasant fictional characters) will disagree.
What I really think: I would consider this for elementary, but it seems young for middle school. 

28250855Giff, Patricia Reilly. Jubilee
September 13th 2016 by Wendy Lamb Books
Copy provided by publisher

Judith lives with her Aunt Cora on an island, and is well cared for and loved. She has been in a special ed classroom because of her selective mutism, but her aunt has fought to have her included in a regular ed 5th grade class. Judith's mother left her when Judith was young, and she still feels abandoned. She does find a dog whom she adopts, and struggles to become friends with Mason. When Judith's mother returns, she struggles with how to start a relationship with her. When a storm threatens the island while a young boy is missing, Judith must face many of her fears.
Strengths: Oddly enough, I was in an elementary class with a girl named Judith who was selectively mute, some fifty years ago, so this is something that actually occurs. I never knew why Judith spoke only to her mother, but did try to befriend her, which I was not able to do. I love the cover on this one, and the island setting, along with the supportive community that includes a church congregation, is appealing. Fans of Linda Urban and Patricia MacLachlan's sad, lyrical style will enjoy this.
Weaknesses: Mentioning junonia made me think of Henkes' book with that title, and I'm sure I've read many books where the crisis is a child getting lost in a storm. I do better with the more upbeat Polk Street School books by this author.
What I really think: Since I have a copy, I'll see how it does with my 6th graders. 

27414439Mills, Claudia. Write This Down
September 27th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

I've been enjoying Mills' Franklin School Friends books, but this one didn't work for me. It was a lot like Lizzie at Last (2000), which I deaccessioned as being outdated. The biggest problem is that I WAS Autumn... 40 years ago. The things that Autumn and I were interested in were dated that long ago, and my readers are going to have trouble connecting to a character who wants to dress and act life Emily Dickinson. When I was in middle school, I would have loved this book, but reading it made me realize how annoying I was in middle school! This book would be a great choice for middle schools where there is a big emphasis on creative writing. 

From Goodreads:
"Twelve-year-old Autumn loves to write. She finds inspiration all around her, especially in Cameron, the dreamy boy in her journalism class who she has a major crush on. Then her older brother, Hunter, who used to watch out for her but has grown distant since he started high school, reads one of her poems about Cameron to Cameron's older brother. They make fun of it and she is devastated. Determined to show her brother how talented she really is, Autumn decides that she is going to become a published author - now! She writes an essay about her changing relationship with her brother, enters it in a contest, and wins, and her dream of publication is within reach. But if her essay is published, everyone will know her family's secrets. Is being published worth hurting those you love?"

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