Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Middle Grade books that build stamina, part 2 - 3.01.22

I am a reader.  I love reading.  I've seen myself as a reader for as long as I can remember.  I have many positive memories of reading from when I was younger.  I get excited by the challenge of a longer book.  I read across genres.  Page count, chapter count, white space, font size, page thickness (I feel like that has a name, but I'm not sure what it is), none of that matters to me.  Even throughout this pandemic, while my reading has ebbed and flowed, and I've been met with reading challenges that are very new (attention, time, desire), I have continued to read.
For many readers, their experiences are very different.  Page count matters.  Chapter count matters.  White space, font.... all of it matters.  And then put a pandemic on the plate. 
And while we're at it.  Let's talk about equity.  I've always had access to a public library and two parents who were always willing to take me there and to the bookmobile.  And I could check out books from my school library.  I know many many readers can't say that.
When I was growing up and I was bored, I read.  There wasn't cable until I was older.  My parents never handed me a phone or a tablet to keep me occupied.  Video games?  Nope, not until I was older.  And even then, my remote was tethered to a box.  In this digital age, books and stories have a level of competition that younger readers never had.  Even the kids I taught two decades ago.... even a decade ago, read differently than kids do today.

As a consumer of books, I love watching social media and sites like the Nerdy Book Club, and reading magazines like The Horn Book, to see what is out and what is being said about those books.  I read and review those books.  And what gets marketed and what is "seen", is not always what reaches all readers.  And I want to make sure to reach all readers.  So I'm always on the lookout for books where the page and chapter count isn't overwhelming.  And yes, there might be more white space.  I look for these books in different formats and genres.  But these books.... they are sometimes hard to find.  They aren't always publicized as much.  Even us nerdy adults might look over them for one reason or another.  But I know they are needed by readers so I search for them.  Which is why I started this series, so other people can know about these titles and get them into hands of readers.

All books should be celebrated.  This series is celebrating the leaner texts.

Almost There and Almost Not by Linda Urban
Almost There and Almost Not
by Linda Urban
224 pages
Linda Urban's books come to mind when looking for a solid middle grade story that is not long in page count.  They appeal to readers who are looking for a character driven novel who want to dive into the character's feelings and learn what motivates them.
This story introduces us to California - or Callie, as she eventually is called - who is going from house to house, guardian to guardian, eventually landing at her great Aunt Monica's house.  Her father is back in Alaska, figuring things out and trying to earn more money for him and Callie.  Once Callie gets to great Aunt Monica's, she's immediately thrown into a project.  The two of them are researching a dead relative, who just so happens to be a ghost that Callie can see and talk to.  Along with a ghost dog who delivers long ago written letters, Callie learns more about herself and what it means to be part of a family.
Perfect middle grade novel for 5th grade and up.

Sugar and Spite by Gail D. Villanueva
Sugar and Spite
by Gail D. Villanueva
208 pages
An #ownvoices novel that takes place on a fictional island in the Philippines.  
Jolina has recently moved to this island and she very much feels like an outsider.  It doesn't help queen bee Claudine puts her in her place every chance she gets.  Jolina is learning her family's magic and she quietly uses it to create a love potion.  She puts this in a treat for Claudine so she can make Claudine be a friend, not a bully.  Before Jolina realizes what she's done, Claudia wants to be BFFAE (best friend forever and ever).  However, after spending time with Claudia, Jolina finds there is a kind person under that rough exterior.  Can Jolina remove the potion without removing the new friendship?
I enjoyed the magical realism of the story and the integration of Philippine culture throughout the story.  The friendship conflict will feel very real to readers and there is one exciting scene at the end.  
I would say the sweet spot for this book is with 3rd-5th gr readers.

Fast Pitch
Fast Pitch
by Nic Stone
192 pages
I love that Nic Stone can write for a variety of ages, and in this second middle grade novel, she shows that power again.
Staying with the same community she gave us in Clean Getaway, this time she focuses on Scoob's friend, Shenice.  Shenice comes from a long line of baseball (or as her brother says, batball) players.  She's currently playing for the first all Black female softball league in her county and they are doing their best at winning and going all the way to state.  But breaking Shenice's concentration is the new information that her (never met) great-grandfather's name was brought through some bad baseball mud.  In fact, his days of playing the game were brought to an end because of a racial crime that he was never able to clear his name from.  But with some new information from a newly-met relative, Shenice has to race against the clock to clear his name and win that softball championship!
I love that this middle grade novel is a quick read - comes in at under 200 pages - yet delves into a racial conversation that readers today are looking to have.  We need more books like this and I'm glad Nic Stone is adding her voice for middle grade readers today!

When Winter Robeson Came
When Winter Robeson Came
by Brenda Woods
160 pages
Not only is this on the leaner side for page count, it's also a novel in verse, which means lots of white space on the pages.  While I easily read this in one sitting, it won't take readers who still need to sit for shorter readings to get through this one.  And it's another historical fiction novel from Ms. Woods, so it will also take the reader to a place in time.  As always, I learned so much from reading one of her books.
It's summertime 1965 and Eden is ready for some fun.  But when her cousin, Winter, comes for an extended visit, she gets fun in the shape of a mystery.  Winter is on the search for his missing father but needs to do his sleuthing on the sly.  Eden agrees to help and it brings the two of them to the Watts neighborhood.  And in the summer of 65, the Watts neighborhood is home for an uprising that puts Winter and Eden right in the middle of history.

Once Upon a Tim by Stuart Gibbs
Once Upon a Tim
written by Stuart Gibbs
illustrated by Stacy Curtis
152 pages
Stuart Gibbs is well-loved for his series like the Fun Jungle series or the Spy School series.  Now he's trying his hand at a new hybrid series.  This first book definitely is on the leaner side coming in at around 150 pages and lots of illustrations in each chapter.  It's a quest story so it's full of action and adventure and since it's Stuart Gibbs, it also has loads of laughs!
Tim is a peasant, like all of the generations ahead of him in his family.  Yet, unlike everyone else in his family, he wants more than just a life of dirt, gruel, and living in a hut.  When he sees there are "tryouts" to become a knight and join the prince and the castle wizard on a quest, Tim decides this is how he changes his station in life.  Along with his friend Belinda and trusty fr-dog (it'a a thing in the book...), Tim finds out that not everything is as it seems on this quest.
I love the "IQ boosters" Gibbs includes.  It's a longer word that he throws in and then follows it up with a definition and using it in another funny sentence.
Looking forward to seeing where this series takes us and Tim!

Hoping you found a book for one of your readers.  I'll be continuing this series and looking for more books to help these readers continue to grow!

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