|Because of Winn-Dixie|
Sarah Bean Thompson is a youth services librarian. A few weeks ago, she emailed me to ask me if I would write a guest post for her blog, a series, entitled, "SO YOU WANT TO READ MIDDLE GRADE." You may visit her blog here:
To date, there are quite a few authors and librarians who have written guest posts. The point of the series is to pick your very favorite middle grade books and explain why you love them. I thought I would place my post here, just in case you missed it.
Middle grade readers, in my opinion, are full of optimism. They mostly see the world in a positive light. They believe anything can happen. This is to say that most readers have faith that things will turn out for the better, that whatever situation occurs, even events that might cause pain, in the end, things will be okay. Typically, the main character sees the world differently because of something they have learned, some true event or idea that has shifted their focus in a small but very identifiable way. Some of them still make wishes on shooting stars, hoping that their wish might come true. Many believe in best friends. They’re in that “in-between” stage, not yet a teenager, but not a child, either. Middle grade novels tell us stories about our lives, and most of them end with a sense of hopefulness, letting us know the that the world will keep on spinning, and our lives will move forward, no matter what has happened. And while there are so many wonderful middle grade books that have been written, if I were forced to pick my favorites, I would choose the following:
BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, by Kate DiCamillo. This is the book that made me want to write middle grade novels. I remember reading it with my oldest son when he was in third grade. When we got to the page where Opal listed the ten things about her mother and then memorized them, I put the book down and thought, how does Ms. DiCamillo write such truths? How does she know the human heart so well to put together a brilliant sentence like this? To quote the book, on page 30, “I wanted to know those ten things inside and out. That way, if my mama ever came back, I could recognize her, and I would be able to grab her and hold on tight and not let her get away from me again.” Really, anything written by Ms. DiCamillo should be read. Each book holds a tiny lesson in hopefulness and perfection.
OKAY FOR NOW, by Gary D. Schmidt. I have read this at least ten times, and each time I do, I find yet another completely brilliant sentence, or paragraph, or page. There’s a reason Mr. Schmidt has been a Newbery Honor winner and a National Book Award finalist. Not only does he teach an English class in Michigan, he writes really fantastic books. This novel is a companion to the WEDNESDAY WARS. There are some of the same characters, but it’s about Doug Swieteck, and his move to upstate New York. It’s about how he overcomes a father who has lost his way, and a brother who comes home in a wheelchair from the Vietnam War. But it’s also about how Doug learns to draw, and, in the end, falls in love.
Also by Gary D. Schmidt, WHAT CAME FROM THE STARS. This book is half fantasy, half reality, but it’s simply wonderful. Mr. Schmidt ties together the world of Valorium, which is under siege, and it’s hero sends out a precious necklace that pulls together the art of this race, with ordinary world of Tommy Pepper, who lives in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Tommy has recently lost his mother, and the family is grieving. It ends happily, they get to keep their house and Tommy’s sister, who has not spoken since her mother died, starts humming a song as she sits next to Tommy, who is playing a Bach piece on the piano. My favorite part is the glossary in the back, which defines the words that come from the fantasy part of the book.
EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS, by Deborah Wiles. This delightful novel was a National Book Award finalist, and so well written. The first line: “I come from a family with a lot of dead people.” Comfort Snowberger tells the story of life and death, and coming to terms with loosing her best friend and then, getting her back again. Toward the end, a rather large rainfall produces a flash flood, and Comfort and her cousin, Peach, get caught up in this flood with her dog, Dismay. After days of searching, they find Dismay’s collar, and deep down, Comfort hopes he is still alive, but the dog never returns back home. At Dismay’s funeral, her best friend, Declaration, says, “I’m not much for dogs. But Dismay introduced me to Comfort, my best friend. And he made me laugh that day when everyone was so sad. He helped me not to miss my mama so much that day.” I happen to be a dog lover, so I know what she means when she writes this. It’s true; a dog will always make everything better.
IDA B, by Katherine Hannigan. I adore this book. Ida B. is forced from being home-schooled to a real school, as well as doing her best to understand her mother’s diagnosis of cancer. I cried a few times, (there are some sad parts, they are forced to sell some of their land) but I also laughed, because Ida B. sees the world in a very good way. She makes it through tough times and in the end, she is hopeful. She has her trees, which she names, and her mother seems to be better.
OUT OF THE DUST, by Karen Hesse. This book won the Newbery Award, the Scott O’Dell Award, and was on many notable lists. It’s about a young girl named Billie Jo who survived the dust bowl. It’s written in verse, and was edited by Brenda Bowen. (Ms. Hesse also dedicated the book to Brenda.) My favorite line in the book is toward the end, on page 226. “And I’m learning, watching Daddy, that you can stay in one place and still grow.” This is just so lovely and true. The whole book is brilliantly written.
Speaking of talented editors, I had the wonderful fortune of having Ms. Bowen as my first editor. She bought THE YEAR THE SWALLOWS CAME EARLY, and since this was my first publication, she taught me quite a bit about writing. I wanted more than anything to make the book the best it could be.
Specifically, she told me, less is more. And she was right.