The winner of the 2016 Schneider Family Book Award (given for artful depiction of a person with disabilities), Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (Lexile: 550; Interest Level: Grades 5-9) tells the story of Ally, a sixth grade girl who struggles with reading. Ally has been in six schools in six years, and her mother and older brother both work hard to make ends meet while her father is away in the army. Because of the frequent school moves, Ally has fallen farther and farther behind, and since reading and writing are so hard for her, she has developed a knack for getting into trouble to get out of her assignments. When a new teacher comes in to cover her class while her regular teacher leaves to have a baby, Ally is discouraged. But this new teacher notices some other talents she has. Is it possible that he could teach her to read?
Overall, I enjoyed the story, mostly because I loved Ally's way of looking at her world. I thought the interspersed humor was perfectly matched to her frustrations. However, I was concerned about why there was no special education teacher at her school, and it was a substitute teacher who was left to help with her "learning differences." (Of course, this may be the "teacher" part of me!) Students who are struggling with reading, or who have friends who are, will find this to be an engaging and thoughtful read. (288 p.)
A wonderfully-written historical fiction novel about the creation of the Berlin Wall, A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen (Lexile: 810; Interest Level: Grades 3-6) tells the story of a young girl whose family is separated the night the wall was built through Berlin, separating the East and West sides. Gerta doesn't understand why the wall, built first as a barbed wire fence, needed to be constructed, nor why it meant that her father and brother who had gone to the west looking for work, couldn't just cross it and come home. But over the next few years, the wall is built up bigger and sturdier, and she comes to understand that the government wanted to keep her enclosed inside of it. The more she believes this, the more she is desperate to find a way out. Then she sees her brother, briefly, on the other side of the wall, and she begins to hope that maybe it will be possible. Very well-told, this is a story that will certainly broaden the reader's understanding of history. I really enjoyed the read. (336 p.)
One of the reasons I became an elementary school librarian is so I can read children's books.