Keeping it Real
I’ve been looking for contemporary middle grade stories to compliment our shortlist-in-progress (soon to be announced), and having a hard time find ones that easily rise to the top for me. What am I missing? Here are some that I’ve liked.
MOONPENNY ISLAND. I’m a sucker for Tricia Springstubb, whose writing is detailed, emotionally precise and seamless. I was drawn into the perspective of an small island town, and felt the character narrative, of how some people are suited to this culture and some are not, compelling. With very little plot to go on though, and lots of pages, the book did lose me here and there for all it’s vividness, and the protagonist Flor or her sister were occasionally a little too insightful. Finishing this one made me turn back to Springstubb’s CODY AND THE FOUNTAIN OF HAPPINESS, also out this year. It is certainly short enough, with the same high quality prose, but similarly lacks in plot.
TIGER BOY, by Mitali Perkins, is perfectly plot-oriented for the younger reader, and opens a world many will be unfamiliar with. Neel lives in an island community too, but in the Sunderbans, and when a tiger cub escapes from a nature reserve his determination to rescue it from hunters puts his family at risk. The politics of a how a community keeps itself is articulated conveyed, and Perkins writing is trim and to the point, but feels less dynamic than other contenders.
BAYOU MAGIC by Jewell Parker Rhodes shares a similar sentiment to Perkins’ work, as the story of a girl fully engaged with and protective of her home. Rhodes evokes Maddy’s relationship with her Grandmere beautifully through gesture and dialogue, and the magical realism or fantasy, as Maddy grows into her powers, is compelling and appealing. The ending doesn’t quite come together for me, and ends up feeling contrived, oddly out of tune with the rest.
FINDING SOMEPLACE by Denise Lewis Patrick stands out to me from other Katrina stories by focussing on the havoc wreaked in a family and community in the hurricane’s aftermath. Patrick is an exceptional writer, partly so in that her writing style doesn’t stand out. She evokes character, setting, and weaves in plot with a perfect tension and clarity that simply puts the reader right there. Perhaps because her story of displacement is so real, the story here feels unresolved.
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About Nina Lindsay
Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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