Saturday, November 13, 2010

Kid Konnection: Middle Grade Books

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 two great middle grade books that I have recently read.

Summary: Life in a small town can be pretty boring when everyone avoids you like the plague. But after their father unwittingly sends them to stay with an aunt who’s away on holiday, the Hardscrabble children take off on an adventure that begins in the seedy streets of London and ends in a peculiar sea village where legend has it a monstrous creature lives who is half boy and half animal. . . .

In this wickedly dark, unusual, and compelling novel, Ellen Potter masterfully tells the tale of one deliciously strange family and a secret that changes everything. -- Feiwel and Friends

I have been a big fan of Ellen Potter even since I read SLOB (my review) last year. Booking Daughter also enjoyed SLOB, but she really adored the OLIVIA KIDNEY book when she was a little younger. So when Ms. Potter asked if I was interested in receiving a copy of her new book THE KNEEBONE BOY, I jumped at the chance. THE KNEEBONE BOY is a pretty big departure from Ms. Potter's other books, but it's no less entertaining. In fact, I think middle grade kids are going to love this novel -- it's already received a starred review from Kirkus!

THE KNEEBONE BOY tells the story of the three Hardscrabble kids. When their father has to go away for his work, the kids head to London to stay with their cousin. However due to a slight misunderstanding, thier cousin is also out-of-town and the kids are left on their own in the big city. Not really sure what to do, they decide to visit their great aunt (who they only know of because of a letter they found) in the country. When they arrive at her home, they quickly learn that things are definitely a little strange in this village -- like the rumored existence of a half boy/half animal. They begin a very exciting adventure and ultimately learn some very intriguing family secrets.

I found this novel to be absolutely delightful and very original! The kids (and narrator) were extremely interesting -- and quite complex for a middle grade novel. In addition, the story was very different (in a good way!) than many of the other middle grade adventure/fantasy books out there. I especially loved how the story was filled with secrets and surprises, and I have to admit that I didn't see how this story was going to end. The last few chapters were so exciting and filled with so many twists and turns -- I just know kids are not going to be able to put down this book.

Once again, I'm extremely impressed with Ms. Potter's writing and versatility as an author. Not only was the story terrific (and a real page-turner), but she developed some memorable characters. I loved how the characters were so "real" and "honest" despite existing in a fantasy story. All three of the Hardscrabble children were very well developed and I truly appreciated the strengths of each character. I also appreciated that Otto, the oldest child, wasn't your typical tween. He wore a scarf that he wouldn't part with and he didn't actually speak aloud -- only with his hands and mainly to his sister. I just loved the relationships and interactions between the siblings, and I have a feeling that both boys and girls will be able to relate to at least one of the three kids.

Another thing that I really liked about THE KNEEBONE BOY was the mix of darkness, suspense, and even humor that occurred in the story. Based on the cover of the book (isn't it fabulous?), I was kind of expecting the dark elements of the story. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how funny this story was. The narrator's voice was just perfect and filled with the right amount of humor. I actually found myself laughing a good bit while reading this novel, especially when the narrator was providing his/her insight! However, I was equally impressed that this novel explored some serious topics such as mental illness, loss and grief.

I have a feeling that THE KNEEBONE BOY is going to be a big hit with the middle grade crowd, and I love that it appeals to both boy and girls. There is definitely a little something for everyone in this story!

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of her novel.

Summary: When a blizzard threatens to ruin Valentine’s Day, three seventh-grade friends make and distribute fortune cookies to their lonely neighbors—and confront the secrets they’ve been keeping from one another.

Confident Kate doesn’t notice much but the latest gossip, and shy Georgia can’t say out loud what’s always on her mind. They’re joined by observant, careful Olivia, whose epic, single-minded crush on PBJ (real name: Phillip Becker-Jacobs) is starting to frustrate the other two. Using fortune cookies that mysteriously always seem to speak directly to the person who opens them, the three girls try to work together to bring some love to their building, while reminding each other why they’re such good friends to begin with.

With all the right ingredients to appeal to tween girls, this is an irresistible confection from an emerging talent. -- Amulet

Last year, I was fortunate enough to meet author Lisa Greenwald when I moderated a panel at the Lititz Kid Lit Festival. I had recently read her debut novel MY LIFE IN PINK AND GREEN and absolutely loved it -- you can read my review here. Plus, she was just incredibly sweet and fun. Needless to say, I have been anxiously awaiting her second middle grade girls novel SWEET TREATS & SECRET CRUSHES for what seems like a long time (but really wasn't!) It was definitely worth the wait. Tween girls are going to love this story about friendship!

I'm not sure what this says about me, but...I love middle grade girly books. From the adorable covers down to the sweetness of the characters, I just can't buy enough of these books for Booking Daughter (or myself.) But what really makes these books extra-special to me is when they also offer some valuable messages and life lessons. That's actually one of the reasons that I loved MY LIFE IN PINK AND GREEN so much; and I'm just thrilled that I can say the same thing about SWEET TREATS & SECRET CRUSHES. This novel addresses so many important themes about friendship!

For those of you who don't remember your middle grade years (or have a middle grade girl living in your house), I want to remind you of how much drama there is surrounding tween girls. Maybe it's just our house, but I don't think so --  my friends seem to agree with me! Anyway, one of the topics that is always being discussed is the importance of friends and what it takes to find (or be) a good one. I absolutely love that SWEET TREATS & SECRET CRUSHES explores this topic on so many levels!

In SWEET TREATS & SECRET CRUSHES, three seventh grade girls are home bound in their apartment building on Valentine's Day due to a blizzard. They decide to make fortune cookies -- they even write their own fortunes -- and distribute them to all the residents of the building. Through the course of a day, the girls not only bring some love and happiness to the people they encounter, but they also learn a great deal about each other. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that all three of them did a lot of maturing in that single day, and they grew to truly appreciate each other -- differences and all.

I thought the premise of this story was just precious, and I loved the fortunes at the beginning of each chapter. However, I think I most appreciated the three characters that the author created for this story. All three girls had very different personalities from confident, to shy, to observant; and I liked each of them for their individual strengths. While I didn't always agree with their actions or behavior, I thought they pretty much represented real-life tween girls. Despite their secrets and disagreements, I kept hoping that they would grow to appreciate each other and realize how special their friendships were.

I think SWEET TREATS & SECRET CRUSHES would make a fantastic tween book club selection or even a good one for a mother/daughter group. There is a great deal to discuss about friendship (and crushes on boys!), and I'm pretty sure that tweens are going to really relate to what the characters experience in this novel. I also think that there are some important lessons in this book about secrets, family, boys, generosity, and compassion towards others. In addition to a fabulous discussion, I also think you could have a lot of fun at your meeting by making (or just serving) fortune cookies, or even taking the time to have the girls write their own fortunes.

SWEET TREATS & SECRET CRUSHES is just a sweet book that tween girls are going to relate to and love. As a mom, I appreciated the story, but I loved the messages that the girls will ultimately take away from this novel.

Thanks to my friends at Aaron's Books for lending me a copy of this book.

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!


Beth F said...

Oh I remember the tween drama years -- my niece at 15 1/2 (yikes! she'll be driving soon) is into different drama now, but I think she would have loved Sweet Treats. She's too old for the book now, but I have little great nieces who will soon be ready for these books.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I love books that use fortune cookies as themes - it seems to yield great opportunities for plot development!

bermudaonion said...

These both look like winners to me!!

Laura at Library of Clean Reads said...

I am putting The Kneebone Boy on my wishlist. From your review, I think my kids will love this one. It sounds different and exciting. Thanks for bringing to light terrific reads for kids!

Tracey M. said...

Thank you for hosting the Kid Konnection! Boy, just thinking back to middle school sure brings back memories. It can be a tough time for sure. I like the reviews that you share.

Anonymous said...

I love books with positive, wholesome messages for young women. Thanks for sharing this one.