Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Library Round-up #11, Part 2: Chapter Books

Mini-reviews of the middle-grade chapter books we currently have out from the library.

Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park.  This book, about a Korean-American girl and her male friend who decide to enter a project about growing silkworms in the state fair, is really about much more.  MUCH more.  It's about racism (particularly mistrust and misunderstandings between Asians and blacks), ethnic identity and assimilation, what it means to be an American, sustainable farming, and novel-writing itself.  The chapters are interspersed with transcripts of "conversations" between the author and her protagonist.  My daughter gave this one 5 stars and I do too!  Also a fun book for those of us who are always on the hunt for books mentioned in other books.  The author actually lists the books mentioned in the text at the end, with the page numbers they are mentioned on, a great bonus since one of the books is identified only by a character in it, not the title, in the text.

Breathing Room by Marsha Hayles.  A historical novel set in a tuberculosis sanatorium in Minnesota in 1940.  The protagonist Evvy struggles to deal with the imposed isolation and rest (at the beginning she is not even allowed to sit up, read, or talk!!), her homesickness (and especially how she misses her twin brother and her father), the deaths of fellow patients, her own mortality, her difficult relationship with her mother, her friendship with the first Jew she has ever met, and the news out of Europe.  The historical note at the end about tuberculosis and the history of its treatment in the U.S. is very informative.  As a bonus, this book also mentions another book; Evvy receives Poems for Every Mood, compiled by Harriet Moore, as a Christmas present from her mother.  A fast-paced absorbing read about a topic most of us know little about.

Fun fact: the authors of Project Mulberry and Breathing Room are writing-critque partners.  (I know this since I always read the WHOLE book - foreword, acknowledgements, and all!)

The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyle.  This book has an intriguing premise: Barnaby Brocket is born without being affected by gravity.  That is, he floats.  His parents, who only want to be normal and avoid all attention (in rebellion against their own parents, who were attention-seeking), "accidentally" let him float away at age 8.  As we follow Barnaby on adventures around (and out of) the world, he - and we - encounter a series of characters, all who have been rejected by their parents for being different from them, from a pair of lesbians (the subject is treated obliquely and I'm not sure my daughter fully understood their relationship), to an artist whose father wanted him to join the family business. I read this book aloud to my 8-year old and the idea that parents might not love their children unconditionally shocked her.  While I thought the treatment of the subject was heavy-handed, with too many examples, she liked it and said "But that's the whole point of the book."  Again, I think I expect too much subtlety than is appropriate for the intended audience.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson.  I only discovered this classic when it's author died and it was mentioned in her obituaries.  The poor, wild. ignorant Herdman children bring an unintended touch of authenticity to this reenactment of the Christmas story by having the Wise Men bring Mary and Joseph a ham, and having Mary burping the baby Jesus.  Robinson manages to be funny and touching at the same time, not an easy combination to pull off.  I'm looking forward to reading The Best School Year Ever by the same author.

Family Tree #1: Better to Wish by Ann M. Martin.  The first in a series of books following a family through the generations, this one focuses on Abby, who is 8 years old in 1930, during the depths of The Great Depression.  A nice but ultimately forgettable historical novel.

Millicent Min, Girl Genius
by Lisa Yee.  This story of an intellectually gifted but socially awkward 11-year-old who tries to change who she is to make friends but in the end finds it is best to be true to herself was a mildly entertaining but predictable read.

Have you or your children read any of these?  What did you think?  What middle-grade fiction have you been reading lately?

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