Archive for middle grade

It Was a Porcupine Necktie

After going great guns there for a while, I’ve been slacking on the ol’ blog lately. I had fun family activities all last week! If you read the “About” part of this blog, you’ll discover that I say something like, “What I love most is my family, second most: reading.” So there you have it.

But now I’m back to reading. And I have fantastic news! I read on bookshelves of doom that a sequel to Stargirl comes out this August! Oh, Jerry Spinelli, thank you! I happen to absolutely adore Stargirl. We read it in my classes last year. Well, actually, we listened to it on CD–narrated by John Ritter, who did an absolutely fabulous job, especially the line: “It was a porcupine necktie.” Oh, the tears! Oh, the humanity! And Stargirl the character: whoa. She is my idol. I want to be her. Though I don’t have her chutzpah (who does?), I try to engage in Stargirlish activities as often as I can.

Anyway, I can’t wait for the sequel. A new Gilda Joyce AND a new Stargirl this August! Maybe I’ll survive a Yuma summer after all!

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Recommendation: Rules*

414dn2g3evl_aa240_.jpgNow that I’ve finished Rules, I’m 3/4 done with my Newbery/Newbery Honor reads. Of the three I’ve read (The Higher Power of Lucky*, Penny from Heaven*, and Rules), Rules is my favorite. Its protagonist, Catherine, is an introspective middle schooler who has an 8-year-old autistic brother, David. Catherine wishes her brother’s autism would just melt away and he would be a brother like everyone else’s brother. Like all middle schoolers, Catherine struggles with blending in, and–because David is doesn’t pick up on social rules from watching people–her family often sticks out. Her parents say people don’t mind David’s odd behavior. Catherine insists that they do.

But, even while she sometimes resents David for all the attention he sucks from her parents and because he makes her feel awkward in front of her peers, Catherine and David do share a special kind of love. David feels safest when they are reciting dialogue from Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel, and I enjoyed those exchanges between the two siblings very much. I read on author Cynthia Lord’s website that she has an autistic son herself. Details like Frog and Toad really ring true. You can tell Lord really knows her stuff!

Meanwhile, at David’s occupational therapy appointment, Catherine makes friends with Jason, who is in a wheelchair and can only communicate by using word cards. Cynthia Lord wonderfully contrasts Catherine and Jason’s friendship with the friendship Catherine tries to form with her new next door neighbor, Kristi. Somehow, Catherine and Jason “gel” much more than Catherine and Kristi do. Jason’s friendship comes almost effortlessly, but with Kristi, Catherine tries hard to be “cool.” We all remember those days, and it is almost painful to read.

The extra details in this book really make it special for me. The Maine setting is fully established, as are the details of Catherine’s life, like how she organizes her room and her love of drawing. Catherine talks about how she enjoys turning over each new month of her Georgia O’Keefe calendar and that she has a small clothespin on the bottom of the calendar so that she doesn’t “cheat” and look ahead. I, too, LOVE turning over a new, fresh calendar page each month and I appreciate the details Lord puts in her book.

As I’m writing about this book, I’m thinking about just how MUCH is in it. I keep thinking: “Oh, I have to write about that! Oh, and that!” Rules is chock full of themes: family, friends, disabilities, acceptance. Rules would be a great book for a school book club or an English class. It’s a fun, quick read with great characters. But it also lends itself to great discussion! Go get yourself some Rules!

Oh, and one more thing: maybe it’s because of the seashore setting, but Rules really reminds me of Olive’s Ocean* by Kevin Henkes. Both are award-winning and both are gems. Get them together!

Side Note: I think I enjoyed Rules so much because I really relate to Catherine. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but I relate to a lot of young female characters in middle grade fiction. Why is it that so many protagonists are shy and love reading? Maybe because authors bring their own experiences to their writing. Just for a change of pace, I’d like a story told from the point of view of a “popular” middle school girl who is athletic and has shiny hair. I know what it’s like to be a shy and bookish child. What’s it like to be outgoing and popular? Are there any books about those kids?

*Yuma County Library book

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Recommendation: Gilda Joyce: Ladies of the Lake*

51bn2kq1yxl_pisitb-dp-500-arrowtopright45-64_ou01_aa240_.jpgWow, I’ve read a lot of good books this year, but this one may just take the cake as my TOP read of 2007 (so far!). Gilda Joyce: Ladies of the Lake by Jennifer Allison is just so much fun! I love to read, and I love to laugh. But reading doesn’t usually make me laugh. This book is truly laugh-out-loud hilarious. Gilda Joyce is the girl I wish I had been when I was 13. She wears wigs, she solves mysteries, and her personality just LEAPS off the page. I finished the book this morning and–Oh Gilda!–I miss you. Luckily, I see another Gilda Joyce installment hits shelves in August!

In Gilda Joyce: Ladies of the Lake our fearless heroine solves the mystery surrounding the death of a student at an expensive private school that Gilda herself is attending on scholarship. You wouldn’t think a book about a girl drowning could be funny, but this one is! Gilda’s comments are hilarious–I especially enjoyed the goings on in Mr. Pante’s class (that’s Pan-TAY, not Panty!).

Ladies of the Lake is my second encounter with Gilda. I read Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator last summer. Why did I wait so long to read this one? Who knows. But it was worth the wait. The first one is spookier, the second funnier, and both are wonderful. Gilda Joyce fills a niche lots of kids are looking for: a mystery AND funny book. Go get yourself some Gilda Joyce!

*Yuma County Library book

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