Imogene's family works for the local Renaissance Faire, a two month weekends-only acting experience in which people come to see what life was like during the time of the Renaissance (think knights, queens, jousts, etc.). Imogene is now about to become a squire to a knight, and she must go on a quest. The quest she prepares for herself? Middle School!
In All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson (Lexile: GN460; Interest Level: Grades 5-9), Imogene moves from being homeschooled into public school for the first time in the sixth grade. This is not an easy transition, especially as she senses that her family's business may not be considered "cool." Learning to make friends, keep up with her work, and continue with her love of the Faire keep Imogene on her toes.
Told in a combination "illustrated manuscript" and graphic novel format (mostly graphic novel), Jamieson again takes us into a world not typical of middle schoolers to share some real truths about being yourself, finding real friendship, and growing up. Her characters are real, mistake-making people, and I found myself rooting for Imogene out-loud! Fans of Jamieson's other graphic novel, Roller Girl, as well as fans of Shannon Hale and Raina Telgemeier will enjoy this one as well! (248 p.)
By the end of the first page, this book had bumped into my favorites of all-time list, and by the time I finished it a few hours later (because I couldn't put it down!), I had decided that every single person I know should read this book. And maybe even own their own copy.
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate (Lexile: 590; Interest Level: Grades 4-7) gripped me from the beginning with the amazing narration of the tree. Did you know trees could talk? Apparently, only to those they know can listen, and that does not normally include humans. But this tree had a story to tell. A story that involves trees. And humans. And time. And history. And patience. And acceptance.
Beginning with information about being a tree (which we definitely need as background here), the story widens out to the neighborhood that the tree watches over: the people who bring wishes to tie on the branches on the first day of May; the people who live in the houses in the shade; the people who own the houses; the animals who live in the tree, under the porches, and in the houses of the people. And then, in particular, there is Samar and the wish she makes to have a friend. The wish the tree decides to grant.
Seriously, this is a must-read book for everyone. It is gentle, familiar, challenging, and difficult. It will touch your heart and make you want to touch the hearts of others. (224 p.)
Down the Rabbit Hole: The Diary of Pringle Rose, Chicago, Illinois, 1871 by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
One of the Dear America series, Down the Rabbit Hole; The Diary of Pringle Rose, Chicago, Illinois, 1871 (Lexile: 750; Interest Level: Grades 5-9) by Susan Campbell Bartoletti includes information about the labor wars of the post Civil War era, leading up to the Great Chicago Fire. Pringle Rose's father was the owner of coal mines in Pennsylvania, and as such, she has a pretty well-to-do lifestyle. She attends a prestigious boarding school, just like her mother did, and was used to the finer things in life. When Pringle's mother and father were killed in a carriage accident, her life changes drastically, and she has to make decisions to protect herself and her younger brother Gideon, who, judging by the description, has Down's Syndrome, a genetic anomaly that was not yet understood in her time period.
Pringle decides to escape her meddling aunt by running away with Gideon to Chicago to stay with her mother's best friend. On the journey, she makes some other friends who turn out to be quite valuable to the children when they are unable to connect with their mother's friend.
The older age of the girl in this story (almost 15) and some of the situations of her needing to be more adult than child are what places this Dear America book a little higher on the Interest Level than some others. As such, however, it is a good representation of the stories in this series. (256 p.)
Mostly a novel in verse, but with some prose, Moo by Sharon Creech (Lexile: 790; Interest Level: Grades 3-7) tells the story of Reena and her little brother Luke as they move from the big city to a small town in Maine when her parents needed to find new work. Reena and Luke encountered an older lady whom their mother wanted to befriend and ended up "loaned" out to her to help with chores.
As Reena and Luke explore their new world, they discover friends in farming children and in the livestock they care for. In the process, Reena begins to learn to love Maine, the crazy cow she was taking care of, and even the crazier old lady who owned her. This is a gentle, light-hearted book with good, solid characters and family values. Fans of Sharon Creech and novels in verse will enjoy this book. (288 p.)
Based on a true story about the life of Yanek Gruener, Prisoner B-3087 (Lexile: 760; Interest Level: Grades 5-8) by Alan Gratz shares some gritty, gruesome information about Poland in World War II. Yanek is only 10 when the war breaks out and finds its way to his city. First, he is banned from school. Then his family is herded into the ghetto and forced into jobs. Then, the relocations begin. Yanek celebrates his bar mitzvah in a secret room at midnight on his 13th birthday, becoming a man overnight. He must learn to survive on his own as his family, and eventually himself, are taken to the camps. Ten different camps become places for Yanek to survive. He can't call them home. Every moment wondering if it would be his last.
Readers interested in World War II will likely gravitate to this book, but the stark, blunt, details of what happened in the camp make this certainly a book for the upper levels. I admit that I cried reading what happened to young Yanek. At the end, the author has a note about which things happened to the real Yanek and which were incorporated from other stories to paint a more complete picture of the camps during the war. (272 p.)
Shannon Hale writes a wonderful autobiographical story of growing up in search of Real Friends (Lexile: GN290; Interest Level: Grades 3-6). I certainly know I found some similarities between myself and Shannon while trying to learn how to belong.
This graphic novel does a fabulous job of showing what it is like for Shannon as she navigates between her best friend, other people who are friends with her best friend, and eventually into trying to form her own "group." Dealing with tough friendship issues like friends who bully you, talk about you behind your back, and turn to you only when they need you, this story provides a realistic look at how someone might handle these issues. Definitely a recommended book for girls in the middle grades! (224 p.)
The Fellowship of the Ring (Lexile: 860; Interest Level: Grades 8+) is the first in The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is a bit outside of the range I usually write reviews for, but I know that some of our advanced readers are reading this series, so I thought I would include it. I see no reason why advanced readers could not read this series (based on content), but there may be some concepts and language that could cause a little confusion. Tolkien, for example, invented his own Dwarven and Elvish languages, and there are references to the rise of the industrial state that may go over the heads of younger readers. However, over all, it is a good story.
The tale begins several years after story of The Hobbit finishes the tale of Bilbo Baggins' adventures. Here we start with Bilbo preparing for his 111th birthday and his decisions on leaving all of his belongings to his nephew, Frodo. Frodo does not know what kind of adventure this might mean for him, but he is soon to be swept into a quest that seems to be destined for him alone. He must carry the Ring of Power to the Land of Elrond for the Council to decide what to do with it. His journey is filled with trouble and terror from the outset, and it is his remarkable personality that allows him to survive.
Fans of fantasy novels, and I daresay, the movies of this series, should definitely read the book to gather more information about the marvelous world that Tolkien created. (432 p.)
Archer Magill narrates the story of his elementary school years from the starting point of having to be a ring bearer in the wedding of the daughter of his grandmother's friend at the age of 6. This is important because it is where he meets his friend Lynnette. Being friends with a girl can be trouble at times, but they manage to work it out.
The story goes on in short episodic bursts through first, second, third and fourth grades, slowing down a bit for some big events in the fifth grade: most notably, the arrival of the student teacher Mr. McLeod. Mr. McLeod's arrival is accompanied by some crazy events that include world-wide press coverage.
And then, there is the bullying incident involving the sixth grade boys on their last day of school. Mr. McLeod decides that they must be held accountable, and he helps the fifth grade boys in an unexpected way. This, of course, leads to more discussions in Archer's family about the amazing Mr. McLeod, whom, it turns out, may become part of Archer's family by marrying his uncle.
The Best Man (Lexile: 540; Interest Level: Grades 4-6) by Richard Peck takes on some tough issues for upper grade readers, especially those of growing up, choosing role models, being bullied, and understanding love--of both oneself and each other. I would recommend this book to others to are interested in how other children experience life. (240 p.)
The 2018 Newbery Award Winner, Hello, Universe (Lexile: 690; Interest Level: Grades 5-8) by Erin Entrada Kelly, is a beautiful book told from the points of view of 4 different characters: Virgil, Valencia, Kaori, and Chet. Summer vacation has just started, and each person is trying to discover their summer plan. Virgil feels alone in his family of people who "always talk with exclamation points." Valencia yearns for adventure but feels smothered by her mother. Chet bullies others because he feels insecure about himself. Kaori searches for answers in the Universe to make order from coincidences. All four cross paths (literally) in the neighborhood woods.
Join Virgil on his quest to find the courage to speak to Valencia. He begins by seeking out the psychic services of his friend Kaori. Valencia grabs Kaori's business card in the supermarket and seeks her help to stop her nightmares. Kaori uses her connections to the Universe to help them both. Chet seeks adventure in the woods to prove he is as good and brave as he thinks, even if he has to put others down to do so. And when Virgil goes missing for the day, the Universe must intervene.
The four intertwining tales make for an engaging read in which the reader will grow to care about the characters, even Chet. I encourage all students to explore this engaging story about one afternoon in summer. (313 p.)
One of the reasons I became an elementary school librarian is so I can read children's books.