Cynthia Lord has been one of my students’ favorite writers , and Touch Blue reminded me again of why this is so. Here’s the cover copy:
The state of Maine plans to shut down her island’s schoolhouse, which would force Tess’s family to move to the mainland–and Tess to leave the only home she has ever known. Fortunately, the islanders have a plan too: increase the numbers of students by having several families take in foster children. So now Tess and her family are taking a chance on Aaron, a thirteen-year-old trumpet player who has been bounced from home to home. And Tess needs a plan of her own–and all the luck she can muster. Will Tess’s wish come true or will her luck run out?
Having just visited Maine, I was enraptured by the way the author brought the setting to life. But I most loved the beautiful interplay between Tess, whose life has known love and stability, and Aaron, for whom life has been a series of disappointments and uncertainty. There are so many small moments of insight and kindness in this story (a Cynthia Lord hallmark, I think) which will lead to wonderful discussions.
I had heard so many positive things about Lisa Graff’s Absolutely Almost, that I could not wait to be able to reach for it (at last) from my TBR stack – and I was not disappointed. Here’s the jacket copy:
Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he’s not very good at. But then Albie gets a new babysitter, Calista, who helps him figure out all of the things he is good at and how he can take pride in himself.
Albie is an unforgettable character – he struggles in school, but has a huge heart and a perceptive wisdom that never fail him. His busy and somewhat clueless parents take some time to catch on to who Albie really is, and what he’s all about, but Albie perseveres…with Calista’s help. I loved Graff’s clear eyed view of parents, teachers, class bullies, and the social hierarchies that exist in any school. But I most loved the way Albie navigates through these murky waters, always remaining true to himself. This would make for a fabulous first read aloud.
As I await (along with everyone else!) the publication of Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, I was able to get my hands on her book Miracle’s Boys. Here’s the cover copy:
For Lafayette and his brothers, the challenges of growing up in New York City are compounded by the facts that they’ve lost their parents and it’s up to eldest brother Ty’ree to support the boys, and middle brother Charlie has just returned home from a correctional facility.
Lafayette loves his brothers and would do anything if they could face the world as a team. But even though Ty’ree cares, he’s just so busy with work and responsibility. And Charlie’s changed so much that his former affection for his little brother has turned to open hostility.
Now, as Lafayette approaches 13, he needs the guidance and answers only his brothers can give him. The events of one dramatic weekend force the boys to make the choice to be there for each other–to really see each other–or to give in to the pain and problems of every day.
This was such a rich and powerful story about family loyalties and issues, love, loss, and forgiveness. Woodson does not shrink from describing some of the harsh realities of race relations and the challenges faced by young men of color in our society, but she also describes the every day acts of courage and resilience with which these challenges are met. I was particularly moved by Charlie, and how he is affected by his incarceration. This is an important perspective , and one we rarely get to read about in YA and middle grade literature.
Under the Egg by Laura Max Fitzgerald was another book that I had heard raved about on blogs and Twitter, and was happy to be able to finally read. Here’s the cover copy:
When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she discovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: Theo’s grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.
With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo’s search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she’ll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time.
Fitzgerald studied Art History at Harvard and Cambridge University, and her deep knowledge (and abiding love) of her subject are evident all through this story. But she is also a master story teller, and the reader is swept along by the mystery at the heart of the book, and the way she develops her characters. I loved Theodora, her worldly friend Bodhi, and the setting – New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Greenwich Village. It’s a rather sophisticated story, especially the art history bits, but I know that my students will be captivated by all the other elements that make this a I-need-to-finish-this-in-one-sitting book.
N.D. Wilson’s The Boys of Blur was such an unusual story. Here’s the cover copy:
When Charlie moves to the small town of Taper, Florida, he discovers a different world. Pinned between the everglades and the swampy banks of Lake Okeechobee, the small town produces sugar cane . . . and the fastest runners in the country. Kids chase muck rabbits in the fields while the cane is being burned and harvested. Dodging flames and blades and breathing smoke, they run down the rabbits for three dollars a skin. And when they can do that, running a football is easy.
But there are things in the swamp, roaming the cane at night, that cannot be explained, and they seem connected to sprawling mounds older than the swamps. Together with his step-second cousin “Cotton” Mack, the fastest boy on the muck, Charlie hunts secrets in the glades and on the muck flats where the cane grows secrets as old as the soft earth, secrets that haunted, tripped, and trapped the original native tribes, ensnared conquistadors, and buried runaway slaves. Secrets only the muck knows.
There are two narratives here – Charlie’s story of returning to the place where so much of his family’s history is entangled, and the mysterious world of magic and witchcraft. The first part of the book was much easier to become deeply engaged in, for it was Charlie’s story. The second half of the book, however, presented complications – witchcraft and magic took over, and it was at times difficult to follow the narrative: what was real and what was imagined and what was some weird combination of the two? Wilson is able to bring all the loose ends together in a satisfying way, but this would be a book that my kids would need quite a bit of guidance in seeing through.