I read What Happened on Fox Street earlier this year and I loved it so much I went and bought a copy to live on my shelf of favourite books. It was small but perfect. It was a book that I felt had so much heart that you couldn’t read it and not feel filled up again. I just finished the sequel today, Mo Wren, Lost and Found, and already I have my fingers crossed that Tricia Springstubb is planning to write us a third story featuring the delightful Wren family. Both of these books are perfect early Middle Grade novels. They’re about the little (and big) dramas of everyday life, and I think that the author succeeds brilliantly in getting inside her main character’s head. You believe in Mo. You will also savor the writing. There’s the kind of fine attention to language that makes you sure that Springstubb really pays attention to how she wants to say something so that it has the greatest resonance for the reader, perhaps even in ways that you aren’t fully aware of, but you’re appreciating nonetheless. The poetry in the writing is subtle, never showy, and you will find sentences and whole passages that you’ll want to go back to and reread just because the way she put it down on the page was so right. This book, like the first, feels like a classic family story, but also is very much of the present and so will be so easy for young readers to relate to. In the second book, Mo and Dottie and her Dad finally move from Fox Street, and this huge upheaval and all of the dramas that follow it form the heart of the story. Mo has to discover how to be Mo when she isn’t in her beloved home any more. She has to think about what matters most, and look for a reason to be hopeful again.
I dare you to read this book and not feel that ordinary life is amazing for all of its challenges and second chances and communities. I’d say this one is perfect.
Mo Wren, Lost and Found is published by Balzer + Bray.
I have a huge stand-up version of the Library Lion in my library at school, and I am made happy looking at him everyday. He sits right beside the rocking chair, just so for storytime. Michelle Knudsen’s new book, Argus, has the same charm, sweetness, subtle humor, and timeless quality as The Library Lion, which I think proves once again that this lady has a gift for picture books.
I will forever more be partial to dragon books, because of my hours and hours of happy time spent working at Toronto’s Flying Dragon Bookshop. I know that if the store was still open, this book would certainly have been featured and hand-sold by many a happy Flying Dragon bookseller over and over again.
It starts (as lots of great children’s stories do), with a school project. When Sally receives her egg she observes that it “looks different.” Her teacher, Mrs. Henshaw, is quick with her response, “Now Sally, don’t be difficult. Some eggs just look different.” Throughout the story, as Sally becomes less and less sure of her strange hatching, Mrs. Henshaw tells her “don’t be difficult.” This cracked me up. I’ve been there. Any teacher has known that kid who has a little problem with everything, who is forever griping about something, or just pointing out little things that don’t seem right exactly at the second that you don’t want to hear it, and you’re just dying to say “get over it already.” I thought it was a funny touch for the teacher / adult reader for the author to make Mrs. Henshaw a little dismissive of Sally’s questioning. Knudsen really succeeds in capturing the busy, wonderful journey of a school project in a classroom, where everyone gets into it independently and as a community, having adventures and encountering surprises and answering questions along the way. This is a story about learning, and loving, and accepting difference, but all of these themes almost glow out of the book, if that makes sense. Nothing is heavy-handed or moralistic. Not to mention that Andrea Wesson’s expressive, softly coloured illustrations have just the right sense of freedom and whimsy to marry with the gentle nature of the narrative. I can think of so many ways to bring this into the classroom. Now all I need is a library dragon…
Argus is published by Candlewick.
Megan McCafferty’s Bumped is the sort of book you want to talk about at every stage of the reading experience. It’s got such an eyebrow-raising premise that I think I’d also be pretty interested to just listen in to other people talking about it. Here it is in a nutshell: What would the world be like if a virus caused almost all people over the age of 18 to become infertile and so teenagers were encouraged to / paid to have babies for themselves and for others? Of course this leads to another question: What would it be like to be one of those teenagers?
Some premise, huh?
Here’s the author talking a bit about the book and her inspiration for the story:
The way that the book is told in alternating chapters from each of the sisters’ perspectives really brings you deeper into the complex and sometimes contradictory opinions that exist in this imagined society. There were times when I agreed with Melody and other moments when I felt more in line with her sister, Harmony, but it was never straightforward enough to “take a side.” I liked the way that the parents (and all adults) stay more or less on the fringe of the story because it reinforces the division that exists in this new world. I think it’s smart that McCafferty is framing the novel as being less about teen pregnancy and more about how her characters discover the power of making difficult choices to be true to themselves. I agree with her. I don’t think that this is just a marketing angle or an attempt to make her potentially controversial book more palatable to some. You’ll be laughing too. There are plenty of preggy-themed jokes and I loved how McCafferty infuses all sorts of pregnancy-related language into the lingo that the teens use. She certainly succeeds at presenting an unsettling situation to readers while leaving room for humor, which I’m sure was not a simple balance to achieve. I’m curious to see where she goes with all of this in book two, which comes out next spring. I hope school libraries stock it even thought it could prove to be controversial because I’m sure that teens will be intrigued and inspired to start sharing their opinions after reading this book.
Bumped is published by Balzer & Bray.
It’s hard to believe that a series where the first book won the Newbery could get better and better, but in my opinion, that’s what’s happened with Susan Patron’s Hard Pan Trilogy. With each of the books, you love Lucky and Hard Pan and the quirky folk who call the town their home, even more than you did before.
I love that Lucky is just as curious about the world as she was when we first met her in The Higher Power of Lucky. She’s still searching. She wants to know things. Will Brigitte’s Cafe stay open in spite of some tricky health codes? Will she ever make peace with her father? What will happen now that Miles’ mom is back in Hard Pan, and what will happen if Lincoln leaves her?
I love that Lucky is reading Charles and Emma (sure proof that she is one cool kid) and that her faithful hound, H.M.S. Beagle, is as perfect a sidekick as he ever was. I love that Susan Patron has created a story that invites readers to think about how a family doesn’t have to be what you expect in order to be right and loving and more than good enough. She also presents different pictures of what faith and belief can be and I think that her exploration of Lucky trying to navigate her way through spiritual uncertainty makes Lucky one of the more interesting and compelling young characters I’ve come across in a long while.
I love these books. They are good – so good – and complicated and meandering and happy and sad and hopeful and heart-warming. All things that you expect to find in life, you’ll find here. So go read them.
Lucky for Good is published by Atheneum.