A Year of Reading...March/April
With winter hanging on and spring just barely poking its head above ground, I spent time at our wonderful central library perusing some of the newest books for middle school readers. There are plenty of sequels to popular series, as well as a variety of titles by familiar authors, but I was interested in the new and quirkier books that might be just right for this transitional time of year
First on the list is "The Puzzling World of Winston Breen" by Eric Berlin, a perfect book for those kids who like solving their way through a good story. This had all the fun of a detective story, as each chapter kept you guessing right to the very end. The author often creates puzzles for The New York Times and school events, so he wastes no time in getting the reader into the mood of the story with mindbenders (and their answers at the end of the book). Of course, having one of the characters be the town librarian was enough to get me interested, but I think once you start reading about Winston and the mysterious box he discovers holds the key to a long-lost treasure, you too will want to read it to the very exciting and surprising end. Readers of "The Westing Game" and "Chasing Vermeer" will want to add this to their list of good mysteries to solve.
"Firegirl" by Tony Abbott deals with a more serious topic, but a rather unusual one. In this book we meet Tom, a seventh-grader who lives more in his imagination than the real world, dreaming that he'll someday be called upon to rescue the class's popularity queen in one of his super-hero disguises. But instead, he will become a real hero and rescue from loneliness and isolation the one girl nobody wants to talk too...Jessica, the firegirl. Jessica has just enrolled at Tom's school while undergoing another round of treatments she needs to overcome the scars left from a tragic fire...a fire that has disfigured her face and her life. As with anyone who is deemed different, it takes guts to be the one to reach out to Jessica in the face of fear, misinformation, and awkwardness that is part of junior high life. Reading this story will give the reader insight into the tough choices we are asked to make in a world we don't always understand.
On a lighter note, my final suggestion is "The Chicken Dance" by Jacques Couvillon. This debut novel reads like Napoleon Dynamite meets "The Desparate Housewives..." in which Don (who's really Stanley) discovers his talent as a chicken judge while trying to figure out why his parents continue to pine for his long lost (dead?) sister Dawn, a baton-twirling dancing diva. Each corner that Don turns opens up more doors, but with more confusing answers to unravel. It takes a teacher, a bully, his dysfunctional family, and his own curiosity to bring all the secrets out into the light of day, making for a hilarious but poignant year in the life of one amazing chicken dancer!