I knew little about the Japanese internment camps of WWII before reading this Bluestem-nominated novel (for grades 3-5). But while based in a significant historical time period, the story itself revolves primarily around the relationship between the main character (Mitzi) and her beloved dog, Dash, as well as friends and classmates as they process the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Dash by Kirby Larson is a short listen or read for dog-lovers and historical fiction enthusiasts.
If you love a big story climax, Crenshaw is probably not the book for you. In this 2018 Bluestem nominated junior novel, Katherine Applegate tells the story of an imaginary friend from a boy's perspective as his family deals with financial troubles. The story does not build up to any major plot point; however, it is thoughtful and reflective (especially since a large portion of the book is a flashback). In any event, this was an easy audiobook listen (just over three hours), narrated by old pro Kirby Heyborne, and it could stir some interesting discussion topics with you and your family.
I dare you not to fall in love with 10-year-old Auggie Pullman in this sweet, moving story about the power of kindness. Although written for a middle grade audience, Wonder is a book that readers of all ages can savor. R. J. Palacio’s debut novel follows Auggie, who was born with extreme facial abnormalities, through his first year at school: the fifth grade. One of the story’s strengths is that we get multiple points of view: we hear from Auggie, a few of his classmates, and his sister. Some readers wanted to hear from other characters. A few years after the original novel, the author released Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories. And if you prefer reading the book before the movie, start reading: a November release stars Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Daveed Diggs, and Jacob Tremblay.
Eighth grade is hard enough for any kid, but at times it feels almost impossible for Lily Jo McGruther, a girl born into a boy’s body. As Lily struggles with her transition, figuring out who she is, and wishing her father would accept her as Lily, not Tim, she also makes a new friend. Dunkin (birth name Norbert) has just moved to Florida from New Jersey and is fighting his own battle, one against himself and his bipolar disorder. Between school bullies, doctors, parents, and grandparents, Lily and Dunkin come together to try to save their favorite tree, which is due to be cut down. Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart is a beautiful coming-of-age story about love and acceptance that’s sure to leave you with a warm heart and a big smile.
In her graphic memoir, Raina Telgemeier relates her long and painful journey towards a perfect smile. It all began when Raina was in sixth grade, tripped, and lost her two front teeth, injuring the bones above in the process. The years that followed were filled with surgeries, head gear, retainers, and a painful amount of braces as dentists attempted to ultimately move all of Raina’s teeth towards the middle of her mouth. While she deals with all this, Raina is also trying to fit in at school, make friends, and (if she’s lucky) find a boyfriend. Smile is a hilarious tale of a dental tragedy that is told expertly through the graphic format and Telgemeier’s engaging art, which won her an Eisner award. While this book is aimed at younger readers, the humor within is sure to garner laughs from any age reader, and readers in their 20s and 30s especially will find a lot of nostalgia in the early 90s setting.
Percy is a twelve-year-old dyslexic boy who doesn’t fit in, his mother lives with an abusive stepfather, and he has just been expelled from his sixth school in six years. Life is frustrating, and the future seems bleak, when he suddenly learns the truth: his father is one of the Greek Gods! This, of course, means that Percy is half a God, and it opens up a whole new world full of danger, but also hope. The Lightning Thief is the first book in Rick Riordan’s young adult series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and it will make you wish you paid attention more in high school when you were studying mythology. This is a fun book with a Herculean quest, prophecies, and plenty of action.
Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth is a word lover’s paradise which both children and adults can enjoy. The story follows Milo, a boy with not much interest in anything, through a mysterious tollbooth into a magical land where he must try to reconcile the differences between the land of Dictionopolis (which holds words most dear) and Digitopolis (a kingdom ruled by numbers). Only by rescuing the princesses Rhyme and Reason can Milo end the discord dividing the kingdoms. It is a fun adventure for everyone as Milo learns to find delight in the world around him.
Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke (1997) A silver dragon named Firedrake is on a mission to find a mystical land called “The Rim of Heaven” that only dragons believe in. Firedrake meets a new friend, a human named Ben. He joins Firedrake and a brownie named Sorrel. They meet other characters along the way on their journey who help them find The Rim of Heaven. The trio also encounters some opposition to their quest. Funke also wrote Inkheart (2003) and The Thief Lord (2002).
Spotlight: Magic Tree House Series by Mary Pope Osborne In Frog Creek, Pennsylvania, siblings Jack and Annie travel in a tree house. An enchantress from Camelot, Morgan, cast a spell on the tree house. Jack and Annie travel to places in time, space, and fantasy. They are fun books – I can’t stop reading them! Start with Dinosaurs before Dark and The Knight at Dawn. Visit the author's website and learn more about the series.
The Grand Escape by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (1993) Marco and Polo, two 4-year-old blue tabbies who are brothers, escape their home to explore the outside world and go on adventures. They end up meeting a cat called Texas Jake, who introduces the brothers to adventures called the Club of Mysteries. It is a wonderful story and parts are scary, sad, and dangerous. Good book for tweens to read. Two thumbs up! Take a sneak peek at this fun book and learn more about the author.