Sam can’t remember life before his Grandpa Mack, but sometimes his memory brings up snatches of a cold and angry place. Although he is happy and safe with his grandpa, when Sam finds a newspaper clipping in the attic, he begins to question if he is where he belongs. The article talks about a missing boy and the picture looks like a three-year-old version of Sam. The problem is Sam can’t read the article. Dyslexia causes words to jump on the page and Sam can only figure out a few, key points.
In an attempt to puzzle out the article and learn about his past, Sam befriends Caroline, a new girl at his school. The two fifth graders build a strong friendship as they try to rebuild Sam’s past. Their experience teaches lessons about love, loyalty, and learning to belong even when life is hard. The author creates a compelling mystery and two great characters finding their place in the world. Her approach to the struggle of dyslexia is also compassionate and realistic, a good way for readers to understand that very real learning trial.
Recommended for ages 10-12.
Abby doesn’t fit in with the girls at her school in spite of her parents’ pressure to lose weight and get along. After months of enduring the harsh company of ‘the medium girls,’ Abby finally stands up for herself and goes off on her own. This brings harsh consequences from the girls, but Abby makes new and better friends.
In an attempt to avoid the petty girls from school, Abby follows a mysterious fox and a persistent dog. These animals lead her across a stream in her neighborhood where she meets a family of true friends. Anders is a nine-year-old boy homeschooled by his grandmother. The two of them are taking care of Anders’s father, who is badly affected by his experiences fighting the war in Iraq. As Abby spends time trying to help these and other new friends, she learns more about her own strengths. She also learns that life doesn’t need to be controlled by the ‘medium girls’ and she is strong enough to stand up to them.
This is a well-constructed book showing the reality of peer pressure and the power of finding your place in the world. It effectively shows the struggles of the tween years, with moments of pain and discouragement, but an overall feeling of triumph. The story is intriguing and the message is both applicable to the intended audience and very uplifting.
Recommended for ages—9-12.
Jake and Lily Wambold are twins so inseparable that they can read each other’s thoughts. They can’t play hide and seek, because they always know where to find each other. But the summer they turn twelve, things begin to change. Jake makes some new friends and Lily feels abandoned and lost without her brother. At first she reacts in anger, but then her Poppy inspires her to find her ‘just Lily’ life. As Lily finds her own life, she learns more about herself and others. Jake, through his experiences on his own, learns about himself as well.
Told from the journal writings of both twins, Jake and Lily is a wonderful story of finding yourself and where you belong. Although it focuses on twins, the book echoes feelings most kids deal with through the tween years. With both a male and female protagonist, it is a perfect for tween boys and tween girls. Jake and Lily are likeable characters with believable experiences. Their story teaches the importance of relying on your family as well as yourself.
Recommended for ages—9-12.
Esperanza enjoys an indulged life on her family’s ranch in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Surrounded by wealth and loving family, she has little understanding of the servants and ranch hands around her. An unexpected tragedy robs Esperanza of her comfort and forces her and her Mama to flee to California. There they settle in a camp for migrant farm workers and are forced to endure the hard physical labor and financial struggles of their new position.
In a new land and a new life, Esperanza finds nothing familiar. She struggles to fulfill her required tasks in the midst of personal sorrow. While her new situation is hard, Esperanza learns valuable lessons. She learns about the importance of friendship and compassion as well as the strength that comes from facing and overcoming challenges. Her story is a powerful illustration of life as a migrant worker during the Great Depression.
Although Esperanza Rising, describes difficult circumstances, it leaves readers with a sense of hope in the strength of the human spirit.
Recommended for ages—9-12 years.
Once again, Sharon Creech uses poetic writing and endearing characters to create a heartwarming story. Naomi Deane and Lizzie Scatterding are two orphan girls living in the town of Blackbird Tree. One summer day, a mysterious boy falls from a tree and into their lives. With the appearance of the ‘Finn boy,’ unexpected happenings and curious surprises begin to occur. Through these events and a wide variety of characters, Creech shares a tale that illustrates how ‘a delicate cobweb link[s] us all.’
The Great Unexpected is a story of coming of age and finding your place in the world. It also teaches the power of kindness and the importance of forgiveness. Creech’s characters are intriguing, quirky, but also very real. The story is a mystery whose resolution shows the interconnectedness of the world. Creech’s intended audience is tween readers, but I think her story can reach younger and older readers, too. It is a good book for reading aloud in a family with a variety of ages.
Recommended for independent readers ages 9 and up, and reading aloud for all ages.
When thirteen-year-old Mary Lou Finney is given the assignment to keep a summer journal, she has no idea her summer will be so eventful. First, her cousin Carl Ray comes to live with her family bringing all kinds of mystery with his silent and sad ways. Soon after, their neighbor has an unexpected heart attack. In the middle of that excitement, Mary Lou deals with her best friend having her first romance and Mary Lou encounters some unexpected romance of her own.
Through the voice of Mary Lou, Creech effectively captures the emotions and events of a interesting but archetypal tween summer. She captures the chaos of a house full of kids with a new teen caught in the middle. Also, she includes some profound life lessons about family, friends, and growing up.
Recommended for ages 9-12
Ever since her mother died, Lucky has been searching for her Higher Power. She listens in on all the anonymous meetings in Hard Pan, California, analyzing the stories of how people hit ‘rock bottom’ before they found their own Higher Power. With a best friend obsessed with knot tying, a five-year-old neighbor demanding cookies, and a guardian who wants to return home to France, Lucky is sure she needs extra help.
When that help doesn’t come, Lucky decides to take matters into her own hands and run away. Ironically, in leaving Hard Pan, Lucky learns it is where she really belongs. On one level, The Higher Power of Lucky is a lighthearted story of a town filled with quirky and loveable characters. However, it is also a beautifully written story of finding our place in a world that is harsh, but also beautiful. It is a good story for young readers, with a deeper message for older readers.
Recommended for ages—9-12 years
E.D. Applewhite is the only non-artist in a family and extended family of extreme artists. Together they live in a country inn turned artist compound and ‘creative academy.’ When Jake Semple, juvenile delinquent and school burner, is invited to join the creative academy, E.D. is sure she wants out of her family. However, soon her father’s local production of The Sound of Music is threatened and all the skills of the Applewhite Creative Academy are required to save the day.
In the process, E.D. learns she has some valuable abilities that can help her artist family. Jake learns he might not be as bad as he thought, and everyone learns to work together. This is a marvelous story of creative genius, eccentricity and teamwork. It celebrates the beauty of hard work and individuality with some wonderfully heartwarming and real characters. I recommend it as a great family read aloud or one for all different ages to enjoy on their own.
Recommended for ages 9 and up.
Millicent Min’s summer is off to a rough start. As the only eleven-year-old finishing her Junior year of high school, Millicent doesn’t have much of a social life. She plans to spend her time taking her first college class, hanging out with her progressive grandma Maddie, and reading everything she can find. However, her parents have other plans. Her mom is forcing her to take a volleyball class and tutor middle school basketball star, Stanford Wong. Also, Maddie announces she is moving to England.
Millicent is miserable, but at volleyball another girl talks to her. Emily even invites her to sleep over and treats her like a normal eleven year old girl. In an attempt to hold onto her friendship with Emily, Millie pretends she is not a genius. The lie gets more complicated when Emily runs into Millie while she is tutoring Stanford. To save his reputation, Stanford pretends he is the tutor. This is a funny and endearing book about the joys and heartbreaks of friendship during preteen years.
Lisa Yee actually has two corresponding books told from the viewpoint of Emily and Stanford. She teaches important lessons about perspective and perception. These are good stories for kids entering those insecure, but fun-filled years.
Recommended for ages 10-12.
Jamie will do almost anything to fit in, including bleaching her hair and wearing blue contacts to disguise her Lebanese-Muslim background. At school, she tries to be a normal Aussie teenager with nothing that makes her stand out. At home, Jamie’s real name is Jamilah. She plays in an Arabic band, enjoys Lebanese food, and wears a hijab. Jamie’s double life forces her to keep her distance from friends in an attempt to hide her identity. When friends start to ask questions, she has to decide who she really is and who she will allow the world to see.
This is an interesting story with a profound message for anyone who has felt threatened by their differences. Jamilah’s situation is individual but also universal for most teenagers on some level. The story is mostly light-hearted with no inappropriate content. I recommend it for 14 and up merely because of the mature themes of racism and bigotry. Written by an Australian-Muslim, this book gives good insight into the thoughts and feelings of someone who loves their heritage, but fears the world’s reaction to it.
Recommended for ages 14 and up.