A Melange of August Reads

Okay, this will be as long as my posts get.  I want to post a little something for everyone just to get things started.  Here are three books that run the gamut of the middle grade reader– early, less experienced readers up to stronger experienced ones.

I’ll start with the latter I’ve chosen, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin.  This fantasy reads like a Chinese fairy tale, but it is an entirely new story created by Lin, who in the author notes explains how she scoured Chinese folklore for the core elements of the genre, but elected to use a female protagonist, thus empowering the traditionally repressed of Chinese culture. The result is a captivating character, Minli, who sets out from Fruitless Mountain to change the fate of her family, motivated by a stirring story her father tells of The Old Man of the Moon, a mythic character who holds the fate of all in his hands.  Early in her journey, Minli meets Dragon, whose sadness stems from the fact he cannot fly. Together, not unlike Dorothy and the Scarecrow, they set off to find The One who can help them change their destiny.

How can I describe the delicious prose?  Spare, most often, with then a line of description so poetically beautiful it makes your heart quiver.  I love this book, and the kids in my third grade class hung on each word and begged me to read more every day (multiple times, in fact).  One of the many appealing features of the novel, besides the brilliantly sustained suspense and diverse, captivating characters Minli and Dragon meet on their trip, is the device Lin puts into play right before Minli sneaks away from her village.  The brave young girl fills her pack with several items which puzzle readers (a bowl with a white rabbit, for one), but goes on to use each and every item throughout the adventure.

Oh, there’s so much more to this book, and I’m not the only one who thinks so.  It won a Newbery Honor and several other awards.  Well earned!  If your child isn’t ready to read it for him or herself, read it aloud.  You’ll love it.

At the other end of things, I bring you The Supernatural Rubber Chicken. 10-year-old twins Nate and Lisa inherit their surfer-dude brother’s mystical, magical, wish-granting rubber chicken.  Lisa smuggles the chicken to school in her backpack, hoping to turn her shy classmate into a charming speaker, but the school superthug gets a hold of it and the craziness begins.  Book one in a 3-book series, Supernatural Rubber Chicken: Fowl Language by D.L.Garfinkle is a breezy romp with quick chapters, plenty of funny situations and hip dialog.  Personally, I loved the surfer-dude brother– he’s a dead ringer for Jeff Spicoli of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Garfinkle has written some other far-fetched and fun concept books, but this is her only series for young readers.

Perfect for kids who'd rather be (fill in the blank).

The Lemonade War, by Jacqueline Davies, is another favorite of mine, and I’ve used it multiple times in my book clubs and in class.  It’s a great read just for the story alone, but the opportunities it raises for discussion are plentiful.  Conflict resolution?  Check.  Diversity? Check.  Mean kids at school? Check. Single parent homes?  Check!  But there isn’t one preachy word in the novel.  The “war” is a rivalry between Evan and his younger sister, Jessie (note appeal to both genders), each determined to out earn the other selling lemonade.  What the war is truly about, though, is the fact that uberbrainy Jessie is getting double-promoted to fourth grade and has just been placed in the same class as her not-so-uberbrainy brother.  What Evan lacks in school smarts he makes up for with people skills, though– an area that utterly confounds Jessie.  In fact, touching reference is made to the fact she’s been duped by a second-grade girl wolfpack without even knowing it.  Watching the two kids struggle with their vulnerabilities– and ultimately realize they are strongest as a team– is entertaining, funny, and even instructional for budding entrepreneurs.  Did I mention it’s a masterpiece of tightly-written prose?  And it’s got great cover appeal (for the young skeptic).  This book is set in New England in August and the depiction of the hot, muggy weather is spot on.  It the perfect read for right now!

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