Book Reviews

Two New “Meatier” Middle Grade Reads

I haven’t requested many new releases or ARCs so far this year. Seven to be exact. But these two stood out when perusing catalogs on Edelweiss. One of my goals this year is to familiarize myself with more middle grade reads, books to recommend to kids at the library and my own children. And many are searching for books that have a little more “meat” on the pages without necessarily being ready for all the YA sequels and love stories. Oh, and I was told by several kids at the library, “none of those diary/comic/journal types”. Here are two that fit the bill:

22571259[2]The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart. Ages 10 & up. Grades 5-8

“In all the ways that matter, Mark is a normal kid. He’s got a dog named Beau and a best friend, Jessie. He likes to take photos and write haiku poems in his notebook. He dreams of climbing a mountain one day. But in one important way, Mark is not like other kids at all. Mark is sick. The kind of sick that means hospitals. And treatments. The kind of sick some people never get better from. So Mark runs away. He leaves home with his camera, his notebook, his dog, and a plan to reach the top of Mount Rainier–even if it’s the last thing he ever does. The Honest Truth is a rare and extraordinary novel about big questions, small moments, and the incredible journey of the human spirit.” ~Goodreads

While I didn’t love this story about 12-year-old Mark, I know middle graders will. Definitely. The bond between him and his dog was endearing and touching. Mark’s “sick of being sick” attitude will resonate with the targeted audience while he journeys off to take control of his life. As a parent, I wasn’t so convinced it was a good idea and keeping secrets of that magnitude could send mix messages (sorry, no spoilers). I really enjoyed hearing from Jessie, his best friend, and how his illness and disappearance really affected her. It has been compared to TFioS for the middle grade without the relationship. I can see the very small comparison but I look forward to what the kids think. It is a page-turner in the sense of Mark’s urgency to reach Mt. Rainier before he gets worse and before someone finds him. This debut is a beautiful tribute to friendship, resilience and being honest to yourself.

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper. Ages 9 & up. Grades 4-8 

22546133[2]“Stella lives in the segregated South; in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can’t. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn’t bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they’re never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella’s community – her world – is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don’t necessarily signify an end.” ~Goodreads

I LOVE historical fiction for younger readers! Draper’s latest weaves in hymns, tall tales, and traditional storytelling with characters you care about. I don’t need to love the characters on the page but Stella is so charming and braver than she thinks, it’s hard not to. She is also smarter than she believes and doesn’t let the prejudice and comments of the racist townspeople deter her from being a writer. You can’t help but root for her, her family and the tight knit community as they struggle with a tension filled town. Draper is obviously a master of writing important topics geared toward children: “While the use of language honors the time period, the author is careful to avoid the phonetic quagmire that ensnares lesser writers of the period, allowing the colorful idioms to shine. A tale of the Jim Crow South that’s not sugar-coated but effective, with a trustworthy narrator who opens her heart and readers’ eyes.” ~Kirkus

These books are both page-turners and filled with tension for difference reasons. They also highlight the human spirit and deal with topics that are heavier but handled well. Both main characters are fighters. Fighting for purpose in their lives against the odds. They are important and necessary reads for children and adults alike. I must say that another thing that struck me was the purpose behind each novel. Each author dedicated their book to family and friends who inspired the stories and reading about it on the dedication page was very, very touching.

The age/grade recommendations are a personal guesstimate as well as suggested by NoveList K-8 Plus using sources such as BookList, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. If you are not sure the material or reading range is appropriate for your child or classroom, please read the book in advance.

Thank you to Edelweiss for granting me access to digital ARCs. I was not compensated nor required to post a review.



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