Genre: Multigenerational

Middle Grade Monday: The Secret Hum of a Daisy (2014) by Tracy Holczer

Middle Grade Monday: The Secret Hum of a Daisy (2014) by Tracy HolczerThe Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer
Published by Penguin on May 1st 2014
Genres: Death & Dying, Family, Multigenerational, Social Issues
Pages: 320
Goodreads

Happy Monday, Readers!

This isn’t my BIG BLOG ANNOUNCEMENT (that’s coming later this week) but a small announcement: I’m starting a new feature on Mondays—Middle Grade Monday! As you know, I already read and chat about a LOT of Middle Grade books, but Monday will be especially devoted to a book in that genre, and it will always be one that I’ve read recently and that I REALLY LOVE! And I think you will too. So here goes for my first Middle Grade Monday!

Suggested age range: 10 and up

“ ‘You deserve to be loved. But sometimes, you can’t see what that looks like for yourself’” (p. 15)

“Sometimes we lose pieces of who we are in times of great sorrow and distress. And then we have to find a way to get them back.”

The Book: Set in California, this poetic realistic story follows the journey of twelve year-old Grace. Grace and her mother have always been on their own, moving from place to place, but when her mother tragically dies, Grace is sent to live with a grandmother she has never met. Struggling with trusting this woman who turned her daughter away before Grace was born, Grace has to navigate a new life in a new place. Can she move on and open her heart to a different family and relationships? Will she uncover the puzzle of clues she thinks her mother left her, perhaps leading her to the answers she so desperately needs in this new town? The Secret Hum of a Daisy charts Grace’s journey as she discovers more about herself, the mother she so desperately loved, and those with whom she might learn to trust.

Spirituality in The Secret Hum of a Daisy: This story has spirituality written all over it. Not in an overbearing way, but because it treats issues of death, grief, healing of the heart, forgiveness, and love. It’s all there, and the way Holczer weaves these themes together is beautiful! How do we say goodbye to a loved one we thought we would never lose so soon? How do we open up our hearts to those who have hurt us? How do we forgive ourselves and those around us? What does it take for the heart to heal and to be ok with settling somewhere and building community? These are all questions raised in the story, and that I think, highlight spiritual aspects of the narrative.

Grace finds solace in writing—but after her mother is gone, it is difficult for her to write anything at all. We find out just how important writing is to her in the opening pages:

“That was how the words felt sometimes as I wrote them down. Like I was taking something scrambled and unscrambling it.” (p. 24)

Who Should Read This Book: This is an award-worthy book that I think all lovers of middle grade fiction should sit down and enjoy. The writing is poetic, the pace is just right, and though the story has its sad parts, it ultimately ends with hope and new beginnings. Though some young readers might have trouble reading a book that opens with the death of a mother, I think the right readers would appreciate this book and its thought-provoking moments of mystery.

The Final Word: What a wonderful debut contemporary middle grade novel! The cover is beautiful, the title is poetic, and there is plenty more poetry throughout the story. This was on my top ten list of anticipated reads for 2014, and I was so happy to finally read this for my children’s book club. I think the entire group loved the book, and I’m excited to host Tracy for an interview on the blog soon. There were definitely moments of tears, so keep tissues nearby, but also moments of laughter and hope. This is a splendid story, with some lovely quotes that I want to return to again and again (you’ll see I’ve included some within this post) and the reminder of how important poetry will always be within the human experience. READ IT!!

“ ‘You will go your whole life, Gracie May, and every single person in it will fail you in one way or another. It’s all about the repair’ ” (p. 187).

What Katie Read

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust (2014) by Loic Dauvillier, Marc Lizano, & Greg Salsedo

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust (2014) by Loic Dauvillier, Marc Lizano, & Greg SalsedoHidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier
Published by Macmillan on April 1st 2014
Genres: Comics & Graphic Novels, Family, Historical Fiction, Holocaust, Middle Grade, Multigenerational
Pages: 80
Goodreads
four-stars

Suggested age range: 10 and up

“It was hard…but we were together.”

The Book:  When her granddaughter finds Dounia crying late one night, Dounia takes Elsa on her lap and begins to share her story. Hidden tells the story of Dounia, who was forced to hide from the Germans in France in 1942.What ensues is a touching, and at times saddening tale of one child’s experience during the Holocaust. Her parents do all they can to keep Dounia safe, even at the expense of their own lives. Originally translated from the French, Hidden underscores the bravery and courage of those who helped Jews during the Holocaugreek hiddenst, but also highlights the resilience of the very young during a terrible time in world history.

Spirituality in Hidden: Needless to say, there are several ways this story revealed a spiritual landscape. First, in the area of relational connectedness: I love the stronger connection that develops between Dounia and her granddaughter as she shares her past—including its joys and tragedies. Because Dounia is opening up about her history, she also develops a deeper bond with her son, and this is revealed visually at the very end of the story. That alone is a strong spiritual aspect of the story and could be a meaningful point for readers. Another spiritual aspect to highlight with any group discussion of the book is the bravery and sacrifice of those who risked their lives and gave of their resources to help hide children during the Holocaust.

A question for you to think about: What’s so spiritual about people helping others they don’t even know? And risking their lives for them? Both the textual and visual geography of this graphic novel further reinforce the potential spirituality of children’s literature.

Who Should Read This Book: Recommended for age 10 and up. This would be an excellent book for the classroom, and I think it’s a graphic novel that would be equally as meaningful shared between parent(s) and child reader. Just as the story opens with Elsa on her grandmother’s lap, hearing about her grandmother’s past and heritage, children and parents could talk about their own family background after the reading of this story. There’s a plethora of other types of discussions that groups of readers could dive into with this story, and I’m sure educators would see a lot of potential for curriculum development with this book related to both language arts and social studies curriculum.

The Final Word: The teamwork revealed through this book among author, illustrators, and translator is brilliant. I especially would look closely at the relationship between the words and the pictures. There are rich gaps within the story—pictures that extend the text, and text that fills in gaps in the pictures. This isn’t a simplistic graphic novel, but a rich and rewarding experience. This is another one that might require the tissue box, but it’s worth it.

Strongly recommended! I waited too long to read this one, and I read it all in one sitting. A fantastic addition to the already rich field of middle grade graphic novels for 2014.

Have you read it? What did you think? Are there other graphic novels set in this time period that you would recommend?

Check out the French cover below:

french hidden

four-stars
What Katie Read

A Toy’s Adventure & Connecting Countries

A Toy’s Adventure & Connecting CountriesThe Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson
Published by Random House Children's Books on 2012-05
Genres: 20th Century, Family, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Multigenerational, United States
Pages: 201
Goodreads

I am Miss Kanagawa. In 1927, my 57 doll-sisters and I were sent from Japan to America as Ambassadors of Friendship. Our work wasn't all peach blossoms and tea cakes. My story will take you from New York to Oregon, during the Great Depression. Though few in this tale are as fascinating as I, their stories won't be an unpleasant diversion. You will make the acquaintance of Bunny, bent on revenge; Lois, with her head in the clouds; Willie Mae, who not only awakened my heart, but broke it; and Lucy, a friend so dear, not even war could part us. I have put this tale to paper because from those 58 Friendship Dolls only 45 remain. I know that someone who chooses this book is capable of solving the mystery of the missing sisters. Perhaps that someone is you. From the Hardcover edition.

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”
Jawaharlal Nehru

Suggested age range: 8 and up

Though I read this book late spring of this year, I am just now posting my review of the novel near the end of almost two months of travel abroad.

Think Hitty, Her First Hundred Years plus The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Those are two of my favorite novels so it is no surprise that Kirby Larson’s 2011 The Friendship Doll became a new favorite. This book is amazing!! It is a slim volume of 201 pages, and yet I tried to read it slowly, in hopes that I could draw out the conclusion. I would not have minded had the book continued on for several hundred more pages. It has been awhile since a book has moved me so, and my hope is that should you read the story, it will move you as well.

The story opens with a real historical event—in 1927, 58 amazing dolls were sent to the United States by Japanese schoolchildren in a symbolic act of reaching out in friendship. One of those 58 dolls is Miss Kanagawa, the doll who narrates the story and encounters various girls over the years, whose lives she touches in profound ways. The time period of the novel begins in 1927 and ends in the present day. There are significant spiritual themes that emerge through these exchanges, such as compassion, hope, faith, and forgiveness. Miss Kanagawa is not able to talk to the people she meets, but even without explicit oral discourse, she is still able to communicate with them and touch their hearts. Through Miss Kanagawa’s travels, the reader meets Bunny, Lois, Willie Mae, and Lucy. All the girls face different challenges and issues through which they must work, such as unforgiveness and selfishness. They also develop traits such as bravery and kindness. It is with Miss Kanagawa’s help that they find resolution.

Needless to say, this story assuredly reflects multiple spiritual dimensions, and this reader can attest to the way the book nurtured my own spirituality and even encouraged me to become more aware of those around me who might be suffering, but do not show it. The story reminded me that small gestures of kindness can mean the world to another person, and also that sharp words can cause terrible damage and hurt. The historical dimensions of the book deepened my awareness of how relations between countries can be strengthened in surprising and creative ways. Perhaps this also points to the idea that connections between people can also be fueled in ways we would never have considered—the notion of exchanging dolls as gifts between America and Japan may not be something the average person knows about. Yet, Larson bases her story on a very real event when fifty-eight friendship dolls were given to the United States by Japanese schoolchildren in 1927.

This is the perfect book to blog about while I am nearing the conclusion of a rich and wonderful journey through multiple countries (England, Belgium, France, Israel) this summer.

Are there any excellent children’s or young adult books you have read this summer that relate to travel or the meeting of other cultures?

What Katie Read
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