Saturday, October 30, 2010

Kid Konnection: Middle Grade Fiction

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. Today, I'm going to share with you some terrific middle grade books that I have read in the past few weeks.

Summary: When her father begins a long-distance romance with a zookeeper from Washington, D.C., twelve-year-old Frankie attempts to sabotage the relationship.-- Holiday House

Our mother-daughter book club decided to read THE NAKED MOLE-RAT LETTERS by Mary Amato for the month of October. Unfortunately, Booking Daughter and I probably won't make it to the meeting because she has a dance commitment, but I wanted to make sure that I had the chance to read the book just in case.

Booking Daughter was extremely excited about this pick and she even re-read the book despite knowing that we  most likely won't be there. I think she enjoyed it just as much the second time around as the first, and I can see why. I thought THE NAKED MOLE-RAT LETTERS was a wonderful read, and I think there are so many wonderful things to discuss.

One thing I appreciated about this book is that I think it will appeal to all types of tweens -- boys and girls as well as avid and reluctant readers. The novel was a fairly quick read and it had a lot going on, plus I think the story was an interesting one. I know I personally loved how the author tied some of Frankie's feelings to the behavior of naked mole-rats. In addition, there was a great deal of humor woven into the story. Booking Daughter absolutely loved the parts of the story where the woman were trying to set up Frankie's father with her guidance counselor.

I also really liked how the format changed throughout the story -- parts of the story were written in the form of emails and diary entries as well as "normal" text. Personally, I think it helped to keep the book interesting and it was an effective way to present some of the events. I loved getting Frankie's insights into events (even though she wasn't always the most reliable of narrators) and seeing her creative ways of dealing with her dad's new friend through the hi-jacked email messages. I think some of her emails were a riot and very smart (although I probably won't admit that to my children.)

Before I read this novel, Booking Daughter warned me that I might not like it. She was concerned that I wouldn't like Frankie because she did some "bad" things. I can she why she thought this because Frankie does kind of get caught up in some lies and other questionable behavior; however, I found that I did really like Frankie -- just not some of the things that Frankie did. As a mom, I could tell that Frankie was a nice and smart girl but that she was hurting over the thought of her father finding someone to replace her mother. While I didn't always agree with how Frankie handled the situation, my heart went out to her because she had experienced so much loss at such a young age. As I read Frankie's story, I just knew that she'd turn out okay and do the "right" thing.

THE NAKED MOLE-RAT LETTERS is perfect for book clubs and especially mother daughter groups. There are so many things to discuss including Frankie's feelings and behavior -- both the good and the bad, as well as grief, loss, family dynamics, honesty, open communication, and friendship. I think it would be incredibly interesting to see how tweens react to Frankie's story.

I highly recommend THE NAKED MOLE-RAT LETTERS! It's a very entertaining novel with some wonderful messages!

Summary: Whether she’s telling the truth or stretching it, Zora Neale Hurston is a riveting storyteller. Her latest creation is a shape-shifting gator man who lurks in the marshes, waiting to steal human souls. But when boastful Sonny Wrapped loses a wrestling match with an elusive alligator named Ghost -- and a man is found murdered by the railroad tracks soon after -- young Zora’s tales of a mythical evil creature take on an ominous and far more complicated complexion, jeopardizing the peace and security of an entire town and forcing three children to come to terms with the dual-edged power of pretending. Zora’s best friend, Carrie, narrates this coming-of-age story set in the Eden-like town of Eatonville, Florida, where justice isn’t merely an exercise in retribution, but a testimony to the power of community, love, and pride. A fictionalization of the early years of a literary giant, this astonishing novel is the first project ever to be endorsed by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust that was not authored by Hurston herself.

Also includes:

*an annotated bibliography of the works of Zora Neale Hurston
*a short biography of Zora Neale Hurston
*a timeline of Zora Neale Hurston’s life -- Candlewick Press

There has been some great buzz about ZORA AND ME by Victoria Bond & T.R. Simon. It has already been chosen by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance as a Fall 2010 OKRA Pick (so it counts for Bermudaonion's challenge.) Plus it just sounds like a great read!

ZORA AND ME is a fictionalized account of a summer in young Zora Neale Hurston's life in the early 1900s. The story takes place when Zora and her friend Carrie are about eight years old -- the summer between third and fourth grade. Their behavior and activities seem pretty typical -- they go swimming, watch animals, and share stories; however, Zora also loves to make up fantastic stories. In fact, she has such an incredible imagination that she creates a story about a half-man/half-alligator who lives near the marshes.When a man traveling through her hometown is found murdered, Zora immediately concludes that it was her gator-man creation. When Zora and her friends start conducting their own investigation into the murder, they threaten to turn the community upside-down with what they discover.

I thoroughly enjoyed ZORA AND ME! It was a fantastic story and one that captured my attention from the very first pages. There are so many wonderful things about this coming-of age story that I hardly know where to start. The writing was excellent and there is no doubt that I was intrigued by the murder mystery. However, what I appreciated even more was that this book brought to light some very interesting concepts about race, community, pride, and secrets. It's one of those books that readers will find highly entertaining because of how the story unfolds, but it is also a book that will teach children lessons about events that occurred in our country's past.

One thing I appreciated about ZORA AND ME is that it included some excellent reference materials at the end of the book. I didn't know much about Zora Neale Hurston's life, so I liked having the bibliography of her works as well as a brief biography and timeline of her life. I thought it was interesting to learn that she didn't have much commerical success for her writing until after she died.

ZORA AND ME is just perfect for discussion. In fact, I think it's ideal for book clubs or even the classroom where teachers can incorporate some of the history of Zora Neale Hurston's life. I was extremely happy to see that there is already a discussion guide available which has some 29 questions. As you can see by the sheer number of questions, there is plenty to discuss about what occurs between the pages of ZORA AND ME. Some of the themes which you might want to explore include racial relations, white lies, friendships, parent/child relationships, the significance of songs and books, pride, and reality vs. truth.

I also love that there is a website devoted entirely to ZORA AND ME. Make sure you check it out because you can see some photos of Zora's hometown Eatonville as well as directions for making a corn husk doll, corn bread, and planting a herb garden. In addition, you can learn more about Zora Neale Hurston and the authors of this book. It's a great resource for readers as well as teachers!

ZORA AND ME really does have so much to offer young readers (and adults too!) It is a wonderful story about a young Zora Neale Hurston, but it also has elements of mystery and intrigue. I highly recommend it.

I received a copy of ZORA AND ME at the 2010 BEA.

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!


Anonymous said...

I keep hearing about Zora and Me and I'm finding it more and more interesting. I think I'll have to add it to my Okra Picks list. It's been a while since I've read much Middle Grade fiction I'm glad to hear what out there.

bermudaonion said...

I enjoyed Zora and Me too. The Naked Mole-Rat Letters sounds like a good one as well, even though I don't like the picture on the cover! LOL

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Great picks this week! I love when books appeal to both sexes - it's too bad they all don't! I really want to get my hands on Zora and Me too!

Laura at Library of Clean Reads said...

Both these books are perfect for my daughter. Definitely going on our wishlist! Thanks for bringing them to light. And as usual, fantastic reviewing on your part.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

Zora and Me sounds incredible! Can't wait to read this one and share it with my youngest :)

My post added to the linky is from our Thursday trip to the library...I think I'll move our library selections to your Saturday Kid Konnection if that's ok ;)

Beth F said...

These both look good.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

THE NAKED MOLE-RAT LETTERS is definitely one of the more unusual book titles I've seen!

Glad both your picks were successes (I keep forgetting to link kids reviews!)