Summer Books

Ahh, the pile of summer books has started to build. Our summer books, however, aren’t the typical escape to the beach reads that you might expect. We do our most serious reading in the summer.

Why? First of all, in Arizona it is too hot to go outside unless you enjoy dehydration and heat exhaustion. In that way, our summer is like winter in other places. You curl up next to the air conditioner with a cold drink, and a good book. Secondly, in summer we have huge blocks of free time. No reading twenty minutes and then having to run somewhere. I have read to my son for hours, until my voice is hoarse and then we read silently together.

With this strong commitment to reading, we have to be prepared with our private library of books. I usually weed out our current library, hit the used bookstores and trade for as many bargain books as we can afford. We can go to the library and run our errands now while it is relatively cool, no need to get in a hot car and swelter in July. And studies have shown that having books around the house is important, so I don’t mind the investment.

Here’s what is on the bookshelf right now. I’m sure you’ll be seeing reviews as the summer progresses.

Grow by Juanita Havill and Stanislawa Kodman (Illustrator)

I’m really looking forward to trying this one, because we already enjoyed another by Juanita Havill.

I Heard It from Alice Zucchini: Poems About the Garden by Jaunita Havill and Christine Davenier (Illustrator)

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt and David Small (Illustrator) an Ala Notable Children’s Books.

It has animals!

The Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean by Trevor Corson

Yes, this is an adult book. I tend to read adult nonfiction aloud with a bit of “filtering,” if the themes are really adult.

A Country Year: Living the Questions by Sue Hubbell

A traditional favorite from years past that we will probably revisit.

If you have any further suggestions for summer books, we would love to hear them.

Middle School Fiction Review: The Goatnappers by Rosa Jordan

In this sequel to Lost Goat Lane, author Rosa Jordan has chosen 15-year-old Justin Martin as her main character. Although Justin is thrilled to have been picked for the varsity baseball team in his freshman year, he soon finds his life too complicated to give baseball practice his full attention. Unwittingly selling his pet goat to a man who abuses animals, Justin is faced with a hard decision about what to do about it. To cause further problems, his absentee father shows up and wants Justin to be part of his life.

The vibrant community of Justin’s family and helpful neighbors lend warmth and reality to the story. It is adorable how the younger children come to tell Justin what they have overheard adults say about him. They have a regular communication network established, which is just how young children tend to be. If they know something, they can’t wait to tell.

Without giving away the entire plot I have to say I was a bit disappointed about the way the “goatnapping” was handled, although I do think it opens the door for useful conversations about how to deal with injustice and whether breaking the law is ever justified.

If you haven’t read Lost Goat Lane, I would definitely recommend reading it first. Lost Goat Lane won awards and was the inspiration of a Showtime movie called The Sweetest Gift. The Goatnappers is a pleasant follow up story that raises some important issues, giving the reader plenty of room to make up his or her own mind.

The Goatnappers by Rosa Jordan
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Pub. Date: April 2007
ISBN-13: 9781561454006
ISBN-10: 1561454001
Ages 9-12 Middle School

A Children’s Book For Boys and Girls

Have you ever had the problem that you loved a book and you want to recommend it to your preteen son or nephew, but the main character is a girl and you think that will put him off? On the other hand, you know your daughter/niece is a big reader, but will she enjoy a book with a boy as a main character? What about as a writer? Have you struggled whether your main character should be a boy or girl, in order to attract the most readers?

Writer Stephanie Tolan has solved this main character gender dilemma in a clever and elegant way in her book  “Surviving the Applewhites” (HarperCollins). Ostensibly the main character is a thirteen-year-old boy named Jake, with spiky hair and a less-than-stellar reputation. However, his narration alternates with that of E.D., a twelve-year-old girl. One character narrates a chapter and then the other character narrates the next. By switching back and forth chapter-by-chapter, the genders have equal representation. Although it must not have been easy to plot, the switch is smooth. It never feels forced or contrived.

Jake and E.D. have strong voices against the backdrop of E.D.’s funny and eccentric family. Both feel out of place. E.D. feels left out because she thinks she is the only non-artist in her artistic family, Jake because he is an outsider who was thrust into the family when he was expelled from yet another school. Both find out about their own unique abilities by the end.

This book would work well as a read-aloud for families with sons and daughters, for mixed-gender book clubs or for literature classes. Boys and girls can relate to the characters as they choose, rather than being forced to decide one or the other. I hope more writers consider this model for their fiction.