Genre: Social Issues

Bookish Illuminations: Rain Reign (2014) by Ann M. Martin

Bookish Illuminations: Rain Reign (2014) by Ann M. MartinRain Reign by Ann M. Martin
Published by Macmillan on October 7th 2014
Genres: Animals, Dogs, Middle Grade, Realistic, Social Issues, Special Needs
Pages: 240
Goodreads
five-stars

Rose Howard is obsessed with homonyms. She’s thrilled that her own name is a homonym, and she purposely gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Not everyone understands Rose’s obsessions, her rules, and the other things that make her different – not her teachers, not other kids, and not her single father.When a storm hits their rural town, rivers overflow, the roads are flooded, and Rain goes missing. Rose’s father shouldn’t have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search. Hearts will break and spirits will soar for this powerful story, brilliantly told from Rose’s point of view.

Suggested age range: 9 and up

If you read my Friday 56 post, you’ll know that today I plan to share with my thoughts on Ann M. Martin’s Middle Grade stand alone, Rain Reign.  Happy Monday and Enjoy!

Illuminations

First things first.

I loved Rose’s relationship with her dog, Rain. When things became difficult between her and her father, Rain was a source of comfort and protection. Rain was also a joy for Rose’s classmates to see the day she follows Rose into her classroom–this created a space for Rain to talk about something with her classmates beside homonyms.

When Rain is lost in a big storm about halfway through the book, things get a little tense, and like many other readers, I’m sure, I was hoping against hope that Rain would be found. Rose finds out what one must do to search for a lost pet after a storm, and she is remarkably adept and detail-oriented; she does what she has to do. What makes the book so fantastic is the way the reader gets a true glimpse into Rose’s thought processes by hearing her side of things. As someone who reads a lot of children’s and young adult literature, I’m endlessly fascinated by the notion of an adult author trying to portray the perspective of a young person. Will it work or won’t it? I like what Ann M. Martin has done here, with this story, but it’s always helpful to remember that this is a work of writing by an adult. Raising this point makes for interesting discussion, that’s for sure, and it’s a point that is unique the world of children’s literature.

With that in mind, getting close to Rose’s voice and her dreams and disappointments is an important part of the book. Even though readers may not come into contact with children with Asperger’s on a daily basis, reading Rose’s story can raise readers’ awareness, and though it’s fiction, the story gives us the opportunity to develop compassion for a young character who possesses a unique perspective on her surroundings. This brings up something that I think good fiction can accomplish: it can affect our social sensitivity.

Rose’s mother is absent from her life, and her father is often at the bar after work. But Rose’s uncle and Rose share a significant relationship, and he spends time with her. So, though Rose’s parents aren’t there for her as much as she needs, her relationship with her uncle fills a gap, and this is crucial.

Who Should Read This Book

Fans of Lisa Graff’s Absolutely Almost will definitely appreciate this book. As I was reading it, I couldn’t help but think about Albie in Graff’s newest novel. It’s interesting that I read both of these books fairly close to one another. They both feature rich and authentic child protagonists who are making sense of themselves and those around them.

Both books highlight heartwarming narratives that are uplifting, but they don’t skate around the sad things that happen to Rose and Albie. Sometimes it can seem difficult to find books with protagonists living with autism, but Graff and Martin have provided two 2014 books that provide such books for readers.

Rose announces that she has been diagnosed with Asperger’s in the second chapter of the book—this isn’t something hidden from the reader. Rose is an endearing character, and just as Albie’s perspective is provided for the reader, making it easier to understand him, Martin does the same in the narrative for Rose. Because we get a deeper glimpse into Rose’s thought processes through the story, we feel more compassion for her and what she’s going through. And so many of us know what it’s like to be searching for a lost pet! In that respect, the book is relevant to a huge spectrum of readers.

And just look at that cover! The title (a homonym—and you know, Rose is obsessed with homonyms) and the cover image were enough to draw me in to read the book. The hues, the silhouette of Rose and Rain, and the font style of the title certainly caught my eye. What I felt: Mystery, excitement, and hope for what was beyond the storm. (If seeing that Ann M. Martin wrote it hadn’t been enough!)

The Final Illumination

I grew up reading all of Ann M. Martin’s Babysitter Club books. Though I read series books as well as stand alones and a huge variety of genres, I appreciated the comfort and the patterns in the Babysitter Club plots. I followed the lives of Kristy, Mary Ann, Dawn, Stacy, and Claudia, and loved the fact that they would be the same girls every time I started a new book. Ann M. Martin was definitely an important author to my young reader self.

More recently, I’ve read one of her Doll People books, but no other stand alones she’s written. Now that I’ve read Rain Reign, I plan to hunt down the others—because she’s not just talented at writing series books. With Rain Reign she’s crafted a beautiful, but not overly sweet story about a girl learning to navigate the world of home and school, while facing challenges that many children never have to deal with. Her story is an important one, and though I had pretty high expectations for this one, I was even more blown away by Ann M. Martin’s ability to pull me into Rose’s world, and feel tremendously sad as I turned that last page. (Sad, at least, that I was saying goodbye to Rose!)

Did you read this 2014 realistic novel? Did you like it as much as I did?

five-stars
What Katie Read

Honey (2015) by Sarah Weeks (Release Date: January 27th)

Honey (2015) by Sarah Weeks (Release Date: January 27th)Honey by Sarah Weeks
Published by Scholastic Inc. on January 27th 2015
Genres: Family, Friendship, Middle Grade, Realistic, Social Issues
Pages: 160
Goodreads
four-stars

For a girl like Melody and a dog like Mo, life can be both sticky and sweet. Melody has lived in Royal, Indiana, for as long as she can remember. It's been just her and her father, and she's been okay with that. But then she overhears him calling someone Honey -- and suddenly it feels like everyone in Royal has a secret. It's up to Melody and her best friend, Nick, to piece together the clues and discover why Honey is being hidden. Meanwhile, a dog named Mo is new to Royal. He doesn't remember much from when he was a puppy . . . but he keeps having dreams of a girl he is bound to meet someday. This girl, he's sure, will change everything. In HONEY, Sarah Weeks introduces two characters -- one a girl, one a dog-- who are reaching back further than their memories in order to figure out where they came from and where they're going. It's a total treat from beginning to end. (From GoodReads)

Suggested Age Range: 8 and up

Illuminations of Spirituality in Honey:

It can be tough living without a mother, even if Melody’s father is pretty cool and they get along just fine. But when Melody hears her dad call someone else “Honey,” she has to get to the bottom of the identity of this person.

I don’t blame Melody—especially when she is still struggling with the idea that she never knew her mother. That’s a space in her heart that can’t be filled by anyone else. This story explores that predicament, and it also highlights the importance of our relationships with others in the face of loss and misunderstanding. It also illuminates the significance of honesty and communication—a good reminder for both young AND old readers.

Can dogs dream? That question surfaces with Mo—the dog who is desperate to find the girl of his dreams and who just may very well lead him back to his original home. A home where he was loved and celebrated.

Melody’s perspective is interspersed with Mo’s throughout the story, and you might wonder how they are ever going to collide. Weeks weaves the two stories together magnificently, but I will say no more.

I have read so many middle grade books recently that highlight young characters in need of healing after losing a close family member or friend in their lives. The Secret Hum of a Daisy and Counting by 7s are two I can think of right off the top of my head. This seems to be a popular topic in children’s literature, because it’s something that young people, sadly, may be going through. These stories are important because they don’t sugarcoat the struggle to be happy after losing a parent or other loved one.

Creative Illuminations:

At 160 pages, Honey is delightfully short and sweet, but I actually would have welcomed more time with Skittle-loving Melody, Sweet Mo, and the Beauty Salon. It’s Bee-Bee, the Beauty Salon owner, who tells Melody a bit more about her mother. Readers who have lost friends or family might be reminded, through the story, that remembering and celebrating the memories of those we love is important. Whether it’s through writing about them, creating art, or just talking about them, this “remembering” is valuable.

The book ends with the 100 nail polish colors in Bee-Bee’s salon. Melody plays a role in creating many of these names, and young readers could even extend the list and create some of their own “shades.” I would definitely be interested in getting my hands on some of those polishes. These shades sound fantastic! If Sarah Weeks based the book on a real salon carrying the colors mentioned in the story, I think that salon might just receive some new patrons.

The Final Illumination:

This story might pull a few tears from readers, but though it has its sad parts, it ultimately ends on a sweet note, and many readers will be fondly thinking of the characters as they turn that last page and feast upon the names of those 100 bottles of nail polish Melody creates. I know I laughed and hoped for the best for Melody, her father, and Mo as I savored the book, and the community Weeks depicts in the story is a memorable one.

Melody names one of the nail polishes, “Silver Linings,” and Honey certainly shows how’s there a silver lining to any cloud—it’s just all in your perspective.

If you enjoyed, Pie, you should absolutely taste Honey! Of course I’m partial to any book with baking (and a pie shop, as in the case with Pie) but Honey is another delightful realistic narrative from a fantastic author.

Thank you Scholastic, for the e-ARC of Honey. This is in no way affected my honest review!

four-stars
What Katie Read

Middle Grade Review (with donuts!): Absolutely Almost (2014) by Lisa Graff

Middle Grade Review (with donuts!): Absolutely Almost (2014) by Lisa GraffAbsolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
Published by Penguin on June 12th 2014
Genres: Family, Friendship, Middle Grade, Realistic, Social Issues, Special Needs
Pages: 304
Goodreads
five-stars

From the author of the National Book Award nominee A Tangle of Knots comes an inspiring novel about figuring out who you are and doing what you love. Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he's not very good at. But then Albie gets a new babysitter, Calista, who helps him figure out all of the things he is good at and how he can take pride in himself. A perfect companion to Lisa Graff's National Book Award-nominated A Tangle of Knots, this novel explores a similar theme in a realistic contemporary world where kids will easily be able to relate their own struggles to Albie's. Great for fans of Rebecca Stead's Liar and Spy, RJ Palacio's Wonder and Cynthia Lord's Rules. (GoodReads)

Suggested age range: 9 and up

Illuminations of Spirituality:

“You couldn’t get where you were going without knowing where you’d been.”

Wow. Where do I begin with this one? Lisa Graff’s books are spiritually deep, in my opinion, but they aren’t religious in any way. The protagonist, native New Yorker, Albie, is figuring out who he is in the story, but this isn’t a typical “discovery of one’s identity story.” We watch Albie navigating his struggles in school, making new friends, and dealing with bullies. It’s through his relationships with others that he find authentic connection that ultimately affects the way he sees himself. Calista who watches Albie every day after school is fabulous! She lets Albie use his allowance to buy a donut every day, and donuts are near and dear to Albie’s heart. Just wait for the drawings of Donut Man towards the end of the story! Calista uses the figure of Donut Man to encourage Albie with a valuable message that ends up affecting him in a profound way.

The quote I included at the beginning of this section reflects a word of wisdom Albie receives in the story. We have to start somewhere to get to somewhere else, even if that place doesn’t seem very appealing or much to be proud of. These insightful quotes throughout Graff’s story are like little gems you want to highlight and hold onto.

Who Might Want to Read This Book:

If you read and loved any of Lisa Graff’s other books, like A Tangle of Knots, or books by Jennifer Holm, I think you’ll love this. Many of us know what it’s like to struggle with something, especially when it comes to academics, but how often do authors effectively represent the perspective of a struggling middle grade student? Graff has pulled this off flawlessly in my opinion, and the result is a refreshing and luminous narrative about Albie—honest and kind Albie, who is valuable because of who he is, and not what he can do. This is a good pick for struggling readers, but readers who appreciate an insightful realistic narrative would do well to pick this one up.

The Final Illumination:

As I read this book, it reminded me of how often I judge by appearances without reflecting on what might be going on inside a person. The interesting thing about the story is that we do know what’s going on inside Albie, but those around him often don’t. So WE understand why he acts the way he does, but many of the kids and adults around Albie don’t. It’s a good reminder of the way that people are quick to judge based on outward appearances, but if we take a step back and put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, we often will respond differently. I loved this aspect of the story–the way it really made me think.

There aren’t a huge number of middle grade books that effectively pull off the perspective of the struggling student. After all, it is an adult author attempting to authentically represent the perspective of a person who is an age that the adult can no longer get back to. However, sometimes an author comes along who is able to do this very well. John Boyne is one who I think pulled it off with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Absolutely Almost is another pick—the adults in the story struggle to understand Albie and his way of thinking and navigating the world, just as Albie attempts to figure out why the people around him act and say things the way they do. Albie is honest and heartfelt, and like many readers, I suspect, I grew to love him as a character, and wanted to share some choice words with the bullies at school who made his life difficult. I cheered for him when things went well, and loved the way his babysitter, Calista, created a superhero just known for liking donuts. This is a humorous and authentic realistic read from Lisa Graff, and you may end up liking Albie just as much as I did.

“I’m Donut Man. I don’t have a superpower. I sure do like donuts, though. Yum!”

If you have a craving for gourmet donuts and you find yourself in Costa Mesa, CA (not the Brooklyn of the book), you should check out Sidecar Donuts. I’ll take a Huckleberry donut and a Madagascar Vanilla Twist!

Visit the 51st Kid Lit Blog Hop and discover other fantastic Kid Lit Blogs!

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five-stars
What Katie Read
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