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Thrills and Spills; Tears and Laughter: Summer 2016 Middle School Titles

May 24th, 2016 | Posted by etownsend in 2015-2016 | Middle School | Summer

mira in the present tenseMira in the Present Tense by Sita Brahmachari. Books for Middle School AgeU.S. edition: Albert Whitman, 2013.

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Mira’s twelfth birthday is bittersweet. It’s the day she starts her period. And it’s the day her beloved grandmother’s coffin arrives. Nana Josie hasn’t died, but she’s terminally ill with cancer and has ordered the plain coffin so she and Mira can paint it with images of things she loves. It’s one of the ways Nana Josie is very open about dying. Sometimes too open, as far as Mira is concerned—it can be a little overwhelming. At school, Mira, who is very quiet, begins to find her voice—literally and on the page—through a writing workshop led by a local author. One of the other participants is a boy named Jide, and the two of them discover they like each other, a lot. The excitement of these new feelings are something Mira enjoys even as she struggles with Nana Josie’s illness. When Nana Josie goes into hospice, though, it all begins to feel like too much. Sita Brahmachari’s novel about a biracial (East Indian/white) girl in Britain is a deeply moving look at an entire family moving through the experience of loss and grieving. But the author deftly balances this with moments of lightness, and skillfully handles the sorrow, including a subplot about Jide, who has a profound understanding of loss as a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. Richly developed characters full of individuality, including some charming quirks, deeply ground this fine story.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell. little blog on the prairieBloomsbury, 2010.

Teenage Gen is spending the summer with her family at Camp Frontier. Participants agree to live off the grid and on the land like pioneers. But Gen has snuck a cell phone in and is texting her friends back home about the absurdity of the experience. (“Help. I’m dressed up like an American Girl doll minus the fashion sense.”) Camp was supposed to be a bonding experience for Gen’s family, but the struggle of even simple tasks and the competition among camp families is causing more stress than togetherness. Even Gen’s crush on Caleb, a boy from another family, is complicated: the teenage daughter of the camp’s owners seems to like him too. Then Gen discovers the owners’ secret shack. The history purists have a computer with Internet access and a fridge stocked with soda. Now Gen can recharge her phone and text even more scathing perspectives on Camp Frontier. But one of Gen’s friends has been posting her texts on a blog, and readership is about to skyrocket. Cathleen Davitt Bell starts with a hilarious premise and develops it into a story that offers astute observations about human behavior at the best and worst of times. A subplot involving a reality TV show is over the top but ultimately doesn’t detract from the genuine humor, as well as the insightful story about family at the novel’s core.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

houdinithehandcuffkingHoudini: The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes. Illustrated by Nick Bertozzi. Hyperion, 2007.

On May 1, 1908, Harry Houdini, locked into handcuffs and leg irons, leapt from the Harvard Bridge in Cambridge, Massachusetts, into the frigid water of the Charles River. This book’s graphic novel format is perfectly suited to capture the tension of Houdini’s escape, as a series of panels visually draw out the suspense as the seconds tick by. Apprehension, doubt, and anticipation on the spectators’ faces contrast with scenes of the magician working alone in inky water to unlock the handcuffs before his breath gives out. For those who speculate about Houdini’s methods, the authors suggest a possibility: a lock pick passed to Houdini in a kiss from his wife, Bess. A thoughtful closing discussion offers additional information about Houdini and Bess, and relates fascinating details under headings such as “Locks of the Day and How Houdini Prepared to Pick Them” and “In the Early Part of the Twentieth Century Everybody Wore Hats.” Glen David Gold’s Introduction places the magician within the framework of the early 1900s and outlines the character traits that carried him to fame: obsession, energy, loyalty, and the inability to refuse a challenge. With few words and many images, readers will be caught up in a dramatic moment of magical showmanship. (MVL) ©2007 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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