Genre: Social Issues

Middle Grade Monday: Nest (2014) by Esther Ehrlich

Middle Grade Monday: Nest (2014) by Esther EhrlichNest by Esther Ehrlich
Published by Random House Children's Books on September 9th 2014
Genres: Emotions & Feelings, Family, Friendship, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Social Issues
Pages: 288

Happy Christmas Week! Things have been a bit slow on the blog due to travel by yours truly, but I’m settled in for the holidays now, so glad to be back! You may have noticed: my blog announcement hasn’t been made yet. That will change soon, so stay tuned.

Welcome to another Middle Grade Monday!

Suggested age range: 12 and up

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley from Wendy Lamb Books. This in no way influenced my review! Thank you, Wendy Lamb Books!

The Book: Set in 1972, on Cape Cod, this middle grade realistic story charts the ups and downs in the life of a young girl whose mother becomes ill with multiple sclerosis. Along with her sister and father, eleven year-old Chirp wants to see her mother get better, and attempts to cheer her up in the midst of a very difficult season of life. Even though Chirp’s friend, Joey, has his own challenges at home, the antics of the two friends keep the story filled with humor. At times heart-wrenching, the story reflects the work of an author who doesn’t shy away from engaging with serious topics in this heartfelt and beautifully written story.

Spirituality in Nest: How does the heart heal after tragedy? Is the love between family members strong enough in the face of losing a loved one? Both of these questions are raised in the story, suggesting a deep and moving aspect of the book. This one definitely raises some thought-provoking moments, though it took me awhile to get into the story.  Chirp’s aesthetic appreciation for the natural world and her awareness and observation of that world is yet another aspect of spirit in the narrative. Her keen observation of birds and wildlife reminded me a little of the way Anne Shirley is in tune with the natural world.

Who Should Read This Book: Though booksellers might consider this book for readers younger than twelve, because of the subject matter and the way it’s represented, I’m going to suggest the book for readers twelve and up. Of course, parents may decide for themselves whether this book would work for a young reader or not. That’s just my two cents. There are some very serious and intense topics and moments in the story, but realistically, some young people have to face situations such as the ones the story brings up. In that case, the book would be extremely relevant.

The Final Word: It took me awhile to get into this story as I felt the pace was a bit slow, but once I reached a certain point—about halfway through—it seemed to pick up. I enjoyed the patterns and echoes Ehrlich employed in the story, and the motifs she used, such as the nest and the birds. I especially appreciated learning more about Cape Cod and the different types of birds living in that environment. The story reflects multiple moments of beauty and celebrates an aesthetic appreciation of the nature world. The story, though tragic at times, ends on a note of hope.

Have you read this new Middle Grade release? What did you think?

What Katie Read

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

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

Middle Grade Fantasy Review: Saving Lucas Biggs (2014) by Marisa de los Santos & David Teague

Middle Grade Fantasy Review: Saving Lucas Biggs (2014) by Marisa de los Santos & David TeagueSaving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los SantosDavid Teague
Published by Harper Collins on April 29th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Friendship, Middle Grade, Mysteries & Detective Stories, Social Issues
Pages: 288

Suggested age range: 10 and up

The book says it’s geared for 8-12 year olds, and there are certainly 8 and 9 year olds that would appreciate the book, but more broadly I’d say, 10 and up.

[Warning: There are instances of violence and death in this story—just a warning for parents who might want to know.]

The Book: Margaret’s family has a secret. They have the ability to travel through time—though it is a gift thirteen year old Margaret’s father makes her promise not to use, right before he is taken away to prison, where he has received an unfair death sentence. Margaret may have to go against her father’s wishes though—her friend Charlie’s Grandpa Josh claims that if Margaret can go back in time and stop a murder from happening, maybe the evil judge Lucas Biggs won’t wrongly convict her father of a crime he didn’t commit. Maybe everything can be set right. Or can it?

Spirituality in Saving Lucas Biggs: This story is full of rich and moving passages that urge readers to think about the consequences of our actions and the way we treat each other. Even in its earliest pages, we get a glimpse of Margaret’s father’s character—he has decided to honor each and every human being, even when they may not deserve it. It’s how we view others that matter….and how we view ourselves as well. The notion of love as the most powerful force in the universe is also discussed in the book. That alone highlights a spiritual element that I was especially drawn to. There are many quotes in the book that are highlighting-worthy—I think you’ll quickly discover this as you read.

Who Should Read This Book: If you like middle grade fantasy in the time travel genre that also includes history, you’ll appreciate Saving Lucas Biggs. I didn’t know anything about hydrofracking before I started reading it, and I can honestly say I learned a lot—especially since this is a very real issue in the world of mining. Young and old readers would enjoy this book—this is one of those middle grade titles that I’ll be recommending to certain adult readers I know who enjoy a thought-provoking time travel story. I didn’t have any problems with this book other than that it was too short!

The Final Word: Beautiful language and a healthy pace made for a satisfying story that I think could have gone on a bit longer, but I was happy at the conclusion. It left me thinking about the story for quite awhile afterwards and that’s one sign of a good book for me. A classroom of students reading the book might be interested in comparing the time traveling mechanism in this story with that of another middle grade time travel book. There are so many science fiction books lately employing the time travel component—I think a comparison/contrast of multiple time travel stories could be a pretty cool project. In fact, I would do it!

And this whole idea of history not wanting to change…

Do you think if we could go back in time, that history would resist change? Probably?

What do you think??

What Katie Read
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