Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another Handful: Middle Grade Books I Read, 2004

Should I note that middle grade and I aren't the perfect fit? It's a harder age for me to connect with; it's a less compelling collection of stories and life themes. I gravitate toward books written for people a bit older or younger, and sometimes, my lack of interest in middle grade books is just a struggle with a time I didn't particularly like being me. So, keep that in mind as you read these reviews, of course!

Midnight for Charlie Bone (The Children of the Red King, Book 1)Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo (Scholastic - Orchard)
I wanted to love this book, but it was really not for me. I got lost in the surreal story and the sense that it was just too close to Harry Potter for comfort, while being a less compelling read. If you're looking for books in the same vein, particularly for a fantasy read for a young reader who wants more like Harry, this might be a good choice.

The Thief LordThe Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke (Scholastic - The Chicken House)
I wanted to love this book too, but perhaps it is enough to say that I liked a lot of it, and it's one I've recommended, though it's not quite my favorite flavor. Something about the font in combination with the orphans-run-away story reminds me of The Boxcar Children, though this story is set in Venice. The story meanders a bit, but for a reader enamored with adventure and the idea of living on one's own (see also: Hatchet and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler), that might not be a problem. There's a bit of magic at the end, but not so much it would spoil the story for a reader who isn't a fan of the fantastic. I've found that boys ages 9-11 particularly like this story, and it's a go-to gift idea for friends that age; there seems to be a divide where this book is a favorite of middle-grade readers (the target audience) and others by Cornelia Funke are favored by adults. And that is the power of books, for me--that there are stories enough to go around.

Trouble Don't LastTrouble Don't Last by Shelley Pearsall (Random House - Yearling)
I picked this book up to have on hand in my classroom for a unit on spirituals, wanting to have some fiction to excerpt for our discussions of the music and its history, particularly the connection to hidden messages. Samuel finds himself accompanying a father figure in their flight from slavery, and while he believes trouble follows him, he's got to find a way to make it to freedom. I think this is a good choice, particularly for kids who haven't studied the time period, which often doesn't come up until late middle school or high school. The first-person narration, the harrowing escape, the muted (but still present) attitudes and language of the time all draw in readers, and could prompt further reading or thoughtful discussion.
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