The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: Delsie enjoys so many things about her life on Cape Cod: the fishing, the storms that roll in off the ocean, and the close knit community of her small neighborhood. Still, she can’t help but think about her mom who left her years before with her grandmother and what the reasons may have been for this abandonment. Her relationships are also changing as her good friend Brandi begins hanging out with an older, mean girl. Delsie finds companionship with a boy new to the Cape that summer who seems to harbor as much hurt inside himself as she does. As new information comes forth about her mother, Delsie finds that she must choose whether to hold on to pain and resentment or to focus on the smaller blessings in her life.
My Take: I found Shouting At The Rain to be a solid entry in the field of realistic fiction for young readers. As an adult reader, I enjoyed learning about life on Cape Cod and how the ‘Capers’ and the tourist get along. Hunt has a talent for conveying blue collar life without making it overly sentimental or pushing it too far. One character, for example, must move with his family into a campground every summer because their landlord rents their house out to tourists for more money. It’s an indignity that is mentioned only a few times, but it really serves as an example of what Delsie and the people in her community grapple with. I would recommend this book to any younger reader interested in a book on changing friendships and life in the summer.
One Interesting Note About The Author: As she notes on her website, Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s first forays into creative writing were after the passing of her brother, who died shortly before his 4th birthday. She “wrote songs about him for years–songs about when he was alive and songs speculating where he went after he died. I had always imagined him sitting on a cloud watching me.” She admits that not a day goes by when she does not think about him.
The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: Georges is a 7th grader in Brooklyn whose family has just experienced job loss and moved from a house to an apartment building. Life at school isn’t much better because he is lately the target of the class bullies. At the new apartment building, a strange boy named Safer ropes him into spying on a tenant nicknamed Mr. X. As Georges grapples with the school bullies and struggles to understand Safer’s behavior, he finds that navigating the social waters of adolescence is often times confusing but also rewarding in the oddest of moments.
My Take: I greatly admired Stead’s Newberry Winner When You Reach Me (2009) and consider it one of my favorite middle grade books. I enjoyed Liar & Spy, but it was a less pleasurable reading experience for me. Stead has a gift at creating characters for realistic fiction that are believable, quirky, and endearing to the reader. I enjoyed getting to know Safer and the odd world that he inhabits in his mind. I did feel that there were some minor problems with the plot. Georges’s father seems to contain secrets in his sadness that are never fully fleshed out and there is a plot point involving the mother affixed near the end that feels unnecessary. Still, this is an enjoyable read about a middle schooler in transition.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her website, before her writing career, Rebecca Stead was a public defender (she thought being a writer was impractical!).
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Red is a scarlet oak that has stood in a neighborhood for 216 years. The local people use Red as a wishtree, writing wishes onto scraps of paper or cloth and tying them onto the branches. When a Muslim family moves into a house close by, Red and its companion animals befriend the daughter named Samar. But when an act of hate targets Samar’s family, Red finds that she must take a more active role in protecting the people and animals in her neighborhood.
My Take: Wishtree is an excellent entry into the category of juvenile fiction that deals with immigration and racial tension. This tale will certainly ring familiar to readers in Trump’s America. Applegate doesn’t clutter up the tale and instead allows the simplicity of the story and the gentle voice of Red guide the narrative. Adults who are struggling to explain racism and persecution to children will appreciate this book
One Interesting Thing About The Author: Katherine Applegate is not only the author of The One And Only Ivan, 2013 Newberry Medal Winner, but also the Animorphs series.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Ethan and his family are moving from Boston to a small town in coastal Georgia, seeking a new start after a traumatic experience involving Ethan and his best friend Kacey. As Ethan learns to adjust to his new settings and to try to make peace with the past, he makes a new friend in Coralee, a lively girl who helps Ethan settle into his new life. But being friends with Coralee also brings its own complications, some that remind him of his painful experience with Kacey. As Ethan and Coralee’s friendship deepens, they discover that the past has a way of resurfacing in painful ways.
My Take: This was an excellent read and I can understand it’s inclusion on a lot of mock Newberry lists this year. Ethan’s pain is convincing and as readers we are pulling for him to find some way to resolve his grief and find solace in his new relationships. Standish does employ some well worn tropes (the mean girl, the bully, etc.) but none of that should bother younger readers. I definitely recommend this to anyone looking for good realistic fiction about trying to make peace with the past.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her website, when Ali Standish was young, she and her mother would play a story game. Ali would give her three things (like blueberries, a panda bear, and a snowy forest, for example) and her mother would be challenged to create a story out of it.
The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: Jesse Alderman is the hook up man at Wakefield High, the guy who can get you anything–for a price. But when a big shot jock wants a shot at dating school hottie Bridget Smalley, Jesse’s real troubles begin. He ingratiates himself into her life and becomes good friends with her brother Pete who suffers from cerebral palsy. But as Jesse gets closer to Bridget and Pete, demons from his past begin to surface. The walls begin to close in on him as he understands that simply being smooth and untouchable is not enough.
My Take: Well, I just loved this book. Jesse Alderman is such a jerk-ass and an intriguing character at the same time that I couldn’t put this book down. More than anything, he is convincing. Spears has a talent for writing humorous, caustic dialogue that simply rings true.
I also appreciated that she has written a frustrated love story that is palatable for boys. Bereft of any hint of sentimental romance, this book features wounded characters that struggle for hints of humanity in the Darwinian jungle that is high school. I can certainly understand why this book was starred by Kirkus and School Library Journal. I would rank “Sway” as one of the best Young Adult books that I have ever read.
One Interesting Note About the Author: According to her website, Kat Spears has worked as a “bartender, museum director, housekeeper, park ranger, business manager, and painter.” She has also worked as a gift shop attendant at St. John’s Church where Patrick Henry made his famous “Liberty or Death” speech in 1775.
The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: Polly lives in a bustling house full of children and loves to read and think about ghosts. Ruby has the opposite problem in that she feels abandoned by her family but has the unwanted power of seeing the dead. By accident one day, the girls discover that they are neighbors and that their attics connect. As they began to secretly visit each other through the attics, they began to learn about the tragic past of Ruby’s family. An aunt that passed away years before begins to visit the girls and brings with her a frightening message.
My Take: This was great children’s book to read in the fall. I appreciated the rotating narration between the two girls and also how the author kept us in suspense as to whether Ruby was actually a ghost or not. I did feel that the book bogged down in certain places, but overall I would recommend this to children looking for a ghost book.
One Interesting Note About the Author: Charis Cotter lives in Newfoundland and has an abiding interest in ghosts.
The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: Auggie Pullman was born with a severe craniofacial difference that has set him apart from others since birth. He has endured over a dozen surgeries to cosmetically craft his face and make his eating and speech easier. Home schooled all of his life, this year he is entering Middle School and must mix with the general population of children his own age. As he begins the school year, Auggie fortunately makes friends with Summer and Jack Will, but a clique of popular kids set their sights on torturing him. Will Auggie make it through the school year and survive the cruel social nightmare of Middle School?
My Take: Believe the hype. This book was so good and it lived up to its acclaim. I was relieved because I had just finished reading Divergent by Veronia Roth, another very popular book, and I could barely get through it. But Wonder kept its promise. What struck me as excellent was Palacio’s ear for convincing dialogue and details. The mean notes slipped into lockers, the fickle friendships, the lunchroom social cliques– all of these details impress upon the reader the cruelty of Middle School. As Auggie endures the searing trial of making it through 5th grade, we as readers are right along with him and hoping that he can survive the year. Goosebumps on my arm at the end told me that this book is special, that it is a book that needs to read by as many people as possible, to remind us all, without saccharine sentimentality, that a little extra kindness is a wonderful thing.
One Interesting Note About the Author: R. J. Palacio decided to write this book after she and her sons had an uncomfortable encounter with a girl with a severe craniofacial difference outside of an ice cream shop.
The Plot In 5 Sentences or Less: Zach, Poppy, and Alice are friends that enjoy playing an imaginary game filled with pirates, mermaids, and treasure. One of the most important parts of the game is “The Queen,” an old porcelain doll that sits in Polly’s cupboard, whose real origins are unknown. As the kids are now 12, all 3 feel ambivalent about continuing to play this imaginary game in the face of criticism from their peers. Their determination is rekindled, however, when a ghost visits Polly in her dreams, claiming that she was killed, turned into the china doll, and now longs only to be buried properly in her grave. The 3 friends set out on a journey to bury the doll and put the ghost’s spirit to rest.
My Take: Doll Bones novel is really about coming of age, facing the challenges of growing up, and grieving the loss of childhood. Black captures the confusion and awkwardness of turning 12 and being unsure about what to leave behind as childish things. I appreciated that the characters were clearly from underprivileged or blue collar families and that Black does not drive the point home too finely. All 3 of the children have unsettled home lives, giving the reader the sense that the children’s quest is not just to bury the doll, but to help restore some sense of wholeness to their respective households. Finally, I liked that the setting is in the industrial area of western Pennsylvania. It lends context to the idea that these children really are journeying a through a blighted landscape.
One Interesting Note About the Author: Holly Black is also the author of the Spiderwick Chronicles. Find out more about her at her website.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Standish Treadwell tries to fade into the background by giving a blank stare from the back of the class. But when his friend Hector climbs the wall behind the house and discovers what’s on the other side, Standish can no longer be inconspicuous. Now he’s being hauled into the principal’s office, interrogated by the leather coats, and beaten by his new stooge of a teacher Mr. Gunnell. After Hector and his family disappear and a strange visitor appears at his house, Standish seeks an opportunity to strike a blow against the heart of a diseased system.
My Take: This is excellent dystopian YA literature. Gardener drops the reader into the middle of Standish’s life with no explanation or exposition, allowing us to slowly piece together the story. What starts as a typical tale about a middle-schooler being sent to the principal’s office, turns into so much more. Gardener slowly develops the nightmare world, until the reader is fully invested in cheering for Standish to subvert it. Great writing and a great book by Sally Gardner! Parents and librarians should be aware that the language in the book is not for younger readers. Ages 15+
One Interesting Note About the Author: Much like Standish, Sally Gardner is dyslexic. As a student, she was branded “unteachable” and expelled from various schools. She is now a spokesperson for dyslexia.
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience Age: 7-9
Rating (1-5): 4
The story in no more than five sentences: Dani, a girl who is about to start Kindergarten, lives with just her dad and their cat since her mom passed away. She is very nervous about starting school, but becomes much happier after she befriends Ella. They do everything together including swinging, trading bookmarks, and playing with Ella’s hamster Partyboy. But in the middle of the year, Ella has to move away. Dani is incredibly distraught until a series of events shakes her from her sadness and moves her towards other, different friendships.
The best part of the book in 1 sentence: The strongest part of this book is Langercrantz’s plain writing style that perfectly expresses Dani slowly adjusting to her loss. The pen and ink illustrations by Eva Eriksson also warrant mentioning.
The worst part of the book in 1 sentence: I honestly cannot think of anything outrageously bad about this book.
1 interesting note about the author: Lagercrantz and Eriksson are both Swedish and have been writing children’s books together for a long time.