Each month, we feature the newest books for your middle-grade readers. Some of these books are just for fun, and others can be springboards for great conversations. In March, we suggest two stories about family and a science fiction thriller.
The Matchbox Diary
By Paul Fleischman
(Bagram Ibatoulline, illustrator)
When a little girl meets her great-grandfather for the first time, he tells her to pick out anything in his knickknack-filled room and he will tell her about it. She chooses a cigar box packed with matchboxes. In each matchbox is an object, and each object prompts a story. Paul Fleischman’s The Matchbox Diary is a charming tale of family, immigration and history told in dialogue and enhanced with beautiful illustrations. Children and parents will be delighted by the old man’s ingenuity for figuring out how to keep a diary in the days before he learned to read and write. This beautiful book is a low-key way for kids to learn about what it was like for a young boy to leave his native Italy and travel across the ocean to a new country. The illustrations are cleverly keyed to the time period: sepia to illustrate the great-grandfather’s memories and vividly colorful to represent the 21st century. Whether your family arrived in the United States 200 years ago or just 2, you and your children will be enthralled.
By Blue Balliett
In modern-day Chicago, 11-year-old Early Pearl lives in a one-room apartment with her parents and little brother. They may not have much money, but her father is hardworking and ambitious, and because he works in a library, there are always plenty of free stories. When her father fails to come home from work one day, Early and her mom ask the police for help, but the officers assume Dad has abandoned his family, as so many men from the wrong side of town do every day. Blue Balliett’s Hold Fast tells the story of how Early figures out what happened to her father while she copes with being homeless and learning what it means to be truly poor. Although the issues are difficult, young readers will root for the smart and resourceful Early, who never gives up faith in her father. The novel is cleverly constructed as a mystery that celebrates the love of words and poetry and the unbreakable strength of family bonds. Early’s tale will lead to parent–child discussions about topics ranging from prejudice to the importance of libraries.
Code (Virals No. 3)
By Kathy Reichs and Brendan Reichs
Kathy Reichs, well-known for her Temperance Brennan books, also writes an action-packed series for middle-grade readers that stars 14-year-old Tory Brennan, niece of the famous forensic expert. The premise is that Tory and her friends have been accidently infected with an experimental virus that gives them special wolf powers. They are not werewolves but regular kids who sometimes have increased strength and speed, heightened senses and the means to communicate via pack mentality. These abilities come in handy, as they are often getting into scrapes. In Code, Tory and her friends discover the fun of geocaching in and around Charleston, South Carolina. When the game becomes deadly just as a hurricane is about to hit the coast, the teens must rely on their wolf senses to solve a murder and protect each other from danger. Appealing to both boys and girls, the Virals books are full of adventures and complex mysteries. Mix in some less-than-attentive parents, and young readers will be engrossed in the stories, wishing they too had some super wolf powers
Talk to me!
Do your kids read books that tell them about their roots? Do you discuss difficult issues that come up in your children’s reading? Do your kids like fantasy and/or science fiction?