* Summer Reading 2016 *
FITNESS: The Summer of Our Content
What the Heart Knows
Reading List: Ages 9 – 12 years old
Summer Reading for other ages? Look right!
All selections and annotations by WPL Librarian Anna L. Nielsen
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Byars, Betsy; illus. Ted CoConis. The Summer of the Swans. NY: Viking, 1970. Sara is having a summer in which she loves everything and hates everything, all within a minute. She knows she loves her dog, but she’s not sure he loves her. She knows she loves her mentally-challenged brother, but how to tell him? And she’s not sure she loves her father or her Aunt Willie, and she’s sure she doesn’t love her giant feet, her awful hair, herself, and horrible Joe Melby. Until one day she learns that she’s the type of sister who will do anything for her brother, and that maybe she does love herself, and maybe Joe Melby is okay. A beautiful book of a girl beginning to know.
DiCamillo, Kate. Raymie Nightingale. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2016. Raymie Clarke, Louisiana Elefante, and Beverly Tapinski don’t start as best friends, but that’s exactly how they end up. Each of them is enrolled in the Little Miss Central Florida contest, for good and desperate reasons: Raymie because she figures if she wins, her father will be so impressed by her picture in the paper that he’ll come back from running off with the dental hygienist, Louisiana because she and her grandmother could really use the money so the state won’t pack her off to foster care, and Beverly just because. But life and contests don’t always go according to plan, and being the next Little Miss turns out not to be the most important thing. Sometimes, friends are the most important thing. And swimming. Swimming definitely helps. Another gem from multiple award-winner DiCamillo.
Farrant, Natasha. After Iris (2013) and Following Flora (2014), NY: Dial Books for Young Readers. Bluebell Gadbsy keeps a video dairy. She follows her older sister Flora and younger siblings Jasmine and Twig around and doesn’t miss a thing. Except her parents who seem to be separating and are never home, and her twin sister Iris who died three years ago. But everything is fine, really, especially with the new babysitter, piano-playing Zoran who is finishing up his doctorate in medieval literature. Or something. Following in the tradition of Helen Cresswell’s Bathorpe family series (Ordinary Jack, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) and Hilary McKay’s Casson family series (Saffy’s Angel, NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2002) Farrant gives us a family full of disasters and spunk and love. And rats that run away and cakes that explode and pants that split on stage, in public. One can’t help but root for the Gadsby’s.
Jansson, Tove. Moomin Family series. Comet in Moominland (1946), Moominsummer Madness (1955), Tales from Momminvalley (1963), and The Exploits of Moominpapa (1966). NY: Henry Z. Walck, Inc. This Finnish international phenomenon (though originally written in Swedish as Jansson was part of the Swedish-speaking minority) is about all things fit and family and friendly. The Moomins are where you go when you want to be recognized and loved for who you are no matter who or what you just might be. They don’t know the word tolerant because they aren’t tolerating anything, or putting up with anything; they accept everything and enjoy everything, key differences. They are a community of unique little trolls who are each individuals and each simultaneously devoted to community. They are distinctly distinct and they love each other. See? It’s possible. Try the recently republished comic books. There are nine so far – start with Moomin and the Sea (2013) or Moomin Builds a House (2013), NY: Enfant.
Kreller, Susan; trans. German Elizabeth Gaffney. You Can’t See the Elephants. NY: GP Putnam’s Sons, Penguin Random House, 2015. Mascha knows what happens in the house down the street, but no one wants to hear her. Not the children and not mother to whom it is happening, not the neighbors, not her grandparents. A quiet, normal-seeming life is preferred. And she’s afraid that if she tries to tell, terrible things will happen – like what happens to old elephants. Terrified but sure that right is right and hurt is hurt and she is fit to know and believe in the difference, she does what she can. It doesn’t work, not at first, but then talking and trusting and talking and trusting some more gives truth and courage to those who need it, and people start to listen. A harrowing yet hopeful book about friendship, loyalty, and the courageous belief that everyone, everyone deserves goodness.
Lindo, Elvira; illus. Emilio Urberuaga; trans. Spanish Caroline Travalia. Manolito Four-Eyes. Tarrytown, NY: Matchall Cavendish, 2008. A huge hit in Spain, this series is about the everyday life adventures of ten-year-old Manolito, who lives in the Carabanchel neighborhood of Madrid. He is named after his dad’s truck and the truck is named after his dad, Manolo. He lives with his parents and his Grandpa Nicolas who is “cool; he’s so cool, he a whole lotta cool.” They are best friends and allies. His little brother called the Bozo lives with them, too, but Manolito can take or leave him, mostly. His friends include the One-and-Only Susana who is like a “whirlwind” and causes trouble just by walking down the street. Rounding out his world is Ozzy the bully; Big Ears, his best friend and traitor wrapped in one; and Miss Asuncion, the teacher who screams and yells and believes in her students nonetheless. Continue the series with The 2nd Volume (2009) and The 3rd Volume (2010).
Nesbit, E. Five Children and It. Oxford: Oxford Children’s Classics, 2013(1902). Nesbit’s classic book that has never been out of print in the hundred plus years since its first printing is about five siblings, Cyril, Anthea, Robert, Jane, and Baby Hilary (aka Lamb), who go to the country for the summer and meet It, a vain and sensitive sand fairy who hates getting wet and can grant wishes, under the petulant conditions that the children will ask for only one wish a day which will last only until sunset. All summer long the wishes go wrong, like getting stuck at the top of the church tower when their ability to fly fades away with the sun. Fortunately in this case the Vicar forgives them, the Vicar’s wife feeds them cake, and while Martha the housemaid kept them in the next day as punishment, she “wasn’t at all snarky about it” and the children remain spunky and audacious. The larks are silly and almost inevitable; the wishes always seem initially reasonable and by the time of their unraveling, their collapse seems wholly logical. The language is utterly clever and the comedy rational. Read the whole trilogy with The Phoenix and the Carpet (1904) in which the children find a Phoenix egg and a magic carpet that will grant them three wishes a day and The Story of the Amulet (1906) in which the children meet up with It again and find half of a magic amulet which lets them time travel. For a somber look at the domestic front in WWI, and how war supersedes all dreams of happy, carefree escapades, try Kate Saunders’ poignant Five Children on the Western Front. London: Faber & Faber Limited, Bloomsbury House, 2014.
Parr, Maria; illus. Kate Forrester; trans. Norwegian Guy Puzey. Adventures with Waffles. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2015. There’s something about this age group as audience that make authors write about kids on the perch of possibility. It’s rather nice. This Norwegian import presents two best friends, Trille (real name Theobald - his parents “regretted it afterward”) and Lena. Trille is worried he doesn’t matter as much to Lena as she does to him. Lena is a racing disaster who equates adventures to the cusp of calamities and who wishes for a Dad, the right Dad (missing parents – another big theme for this age group). Through Auntie Granny making waffles and stable fires and rescuing horses, Trille and Lena both get what they want. For more waffles and missing parents and perfectly happy endings, read Polly Horvath’s Everything on a Waffle (NY: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2001 about a girl named Primrose Squarp (possibly one of the best names in fiction). Her parents disappear during a storm and while Primrose knows for absolutely sure they’ll make it back some day, the rest of the neighborhood isn’t so convinced. So the town council decides she has to live with Uncle jack (what Uncle Jack wants doesn’t seem to matter) but it’s okay because Primrose can always go hang out with Miss Bowzer who owns the local restaurant in which everything, absolutely everything is served on waffles, even fried chicken. Yum. For more fried chicken and another determined protagonist with an excellent name, meet India Opal Buloni of Naomi, Florida in Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie (Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2000). Winn-Dixie is a dog. He is dirty and huge and not exactly pretty. His tongue hangs out real far and his tail wags like nobody’s business. Opal adopts him. She’s got a daddy but is missing a mom, so. But it’s okay, because with a dad likes hers and a dog with as big a heart as he has, and with Miss Franny Block and Gloria Dump for friends, Opal is on the perch of possibility. The summer is going to be good.
Scanlon, Liz Garton. The Great Good Summer. NY: Beach Lane Books, 2015. Ivy’s mama has run off to follow a man named Hallelujah Dave. Ivy can barely think about it without rolling her eyes (the man has a man-bun, for goodness sake) but it’s true, her mama’s gone, and her Daddy says they have to be patient and wait for her mama to “work out her sad.” Ivy is not patient, and family is family after all and a person shouldn’t just go around abandoning family, especially not for men with man-buns (for goodness sake!), and her best friend Paul wants to go to the new space center anyway, so running away to find her mama and ride the rocket launch special is what Ivy is going to do. Family and friends are what matter, after all. And Ivy Ruth Green never gives up on what matters.
Weeks, Sarah and Gita Varadarajan. Save Me a Seat. NY: Scholastic Press, 2016. Ravi Suryanarayanan is fresh arrived from Bangalore and wants to be the best and make friends, especially with other Indians. Dillon Samreen is an ABCD (American-Born Confused Desi) and wants to taunt and torment his way through school, with Indians, African Americans, and Caucasians as equal targets. Joe Sylvester is Caucasian and his two best friends moved away over the summer and his mom is the new lunch monitor and all he wants is to be left alone. So. Ravi the new kid, Dillon the bully, and Joe the loner. What could possibly go wrong? All it takes is a week worth of school lunch periods. Maybe something will go right.
Yardi, Robin. The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books, Lerner Publishing, 2016. Mateo thinks fourth grade is tough. His best friend Jimmy has left him for a group of friends that aren’t that great – kind of terrible, actually, and he’s always got to watch out for his five-year old sister, which is harder than you might think considering the fact that two skunks stole his old trike. Seriously. And the skunks talk. So what is he supposed to do with that? Combined with the fact that since he is Mexican-American he’s trying to learn Spanish, and his mistakes make him feel like he’s split in two, or at least as weird and wrong as skunks talking; the latter about which obviously no adult is going to believe him and the former of which he does not want to discuss (enough talking!), so he is on his own. With a five-year old sister who lost the trike to two thieving talking skunks. Except he’s not totally on his own, because Ashwin, who is new in town, is turning out to be great – pretty really great, actually, and together they can take on the world. Or at least some skunks.
Guibert, Emmanuel; illus. Marc Boutavant; trans. French Joe Johnson. Ariol: Just a Donkey Like You and Me. NY: Papercutz, Macmillan, 2013. Ariol is a little blue donkey with glasses and his best friend is a pig. Bizbilla is a fly and likes him but he likes Petula who is a cow with a bad-tempered bull for a father. His teacher is a dog and his gym teacher a rooster. Elementary school can be such a wilderness! Follow his happy adventures through all nine books in the series.
Hicks, Faith Erin. The Nameless City. NY: First Second, 2016. Kaidu leaves his mother and tribe to live with his father in the Nameless City, called so because each conquering army gives it another title, while the people who live in the city and the city itself survive, season after season, ruler after ruler. Status changes and power flips, and Kaidu can’t understand why one group would be considered more important than another, but he will and does face all he fears for the safety of his friends and his nation. The illustrations add to the speed and tone of the narrative, slipping between sour and sweet in shading of ocher and mustard. The first book in an eventual trilogy.
Tolstikova, Dasha. A Year Without Mom. Toronto/Berkeley, Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press, 2015. This illustrated memoir about the year the author was twelve-years old and lived with her grandparents in Russia while her mother studied in America is poignant and plucky, with dips into depression and despondency that climbs into reconciliation and new beginnings. Dasha is sad about the separation between she and her mom, and lost – and this in the midst of changes from Gorbachev to Yeltsin – but she is also a burgeoning teen, and she approaches her changes by trying to make a life for herself. She takes new classes, makes new friends, and even has a crush and despairs of the crush and rightly gets over the crush. The colors are shades of gloomy grey that grow heavy with thickness of line and mood and switch to light line drawings with splotches of red and navy for everything from blushing cheeks to moving cars to the dress Dasha wears when she’s feeling reconciled. There is change, growth, recognition, and in the end, happiness. Lovely.
Lea, Synne; illus. Stian Hole; trans. From Norwegian by John Irons. Night Guard. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, 2016. Hole’s realist illustrations provide almost eerie exactness to Lea’s connected poems of the questions and observations of a girl about life and dreams and trees and the people around her. “First my friend/ laughs, and afterward/ I do. Then the laughter is/ precisely long enough. I can wind it/ three times around my neck/ and get it to warm me…”
Sidman, Joyce; illus. Pamela Zagarenski. What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms, and Blessings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2013. Split into four sections, Chants & Charms, to bolster courage and guard against evil; Spells & Invocations, to cause something to happen; Laments & Remembrances, to remember, regret, or grieve; and Praise Songs & Blessings, to celebrate, thank, or express love. Zagarenski’s art of mixed media on wood provide delicately strong support. It’s never too early or too late to open a heart. Try Come, Happiness (a chant): “So come,/ come to us, Happiness./ Bathe us with your cool spray./ Fill us with your splendid breath./ Help us do your work.”