…that I’d Like to Recommend, but No One Ever Asks!
So, some of you may know that I spend way too much time on certain homeschool forums recommending books for peoples’ kids to read. I don’t know what it is about recommending a book that makes me feel so good, but I get a special pleasure out of suggesting a book to a kid. Clearly I missed my calling as a librarian, though I did get to fulfill this role back when I was a middle school teacher in my former life.
As I glanced at my shelves the other day, I realized that there are a lot of books that I really like, but that I never seem to recommend, mostly because no one seems to be looking for them. People are always looking for read alouds and not-to-be-missed classics. Historical fiction gets heavy play among the homeschool crowd too. However, here are a few books I think I’d like to put into the hands of some kid, I just don’t know who.
Lost in Time by Hans Magnus Enzenberger
This middle grades novel is a strange one. A boy looks into a picture and finds himself going back in time to the setting of the picture. Again and again, this happens, taking the boy on a backwards trip through slices of European history all over the continent. Each place has its own characters and issues. But will he ever be able to find his way home? The writing in this novel is sharp and compelling. It’s in translation, by the way, since the author is German. It’s a lesser known book of several years ago, but one that I really remember vividly.
The Adventures of Blue Avenger by Norma Howe
Another unusual upper middle grades or possibly YA novel. It sounds like fantasy, but it isn’t at all. The main character is a boy who changes his name to Blue Avenger, setting off a strange series of events involving a girl (with another unusual name) and the recipe for the perfect key lime pie, among other things. The story is decent, but it’s the philosophical musings about the nature of our actions that really elevates this story. I loved it and I feel like there’s a deep thinking 12 year old out there who would love it too.
Westmark, The Kestrel and The Beggar Queen by Lloyd Alexander
This middle grades series isn’t unknown. Alexander is a Newbery winner, after all. However, they aren’t quite fantasy and they aren’t quite historical fiction so somewhere I feel like they get lost in the shuffle. The books follow a young printer’s apprentice named Theo as he gets caught up with the government and with rebels searching for democracy. In the course of the series, Theo goes from being a young idealist to a bloodthirsty general and then to a man searching for moderation in the midst of a counter-revolution. The nature of “just war” is explored, as well as many of the political ideas of the Enlightenment. As I said, it’s almost historical fiction and would make a nice go-along for a student studying the first half of the 1800’s in European history or for any kid interested in war and politics.
Operation Redwood by S. Terrel French
I happened to hear the author read a snippet of this middle grades novel at an SCBWI conference awhile back. The snippet was amusing, so I tried the book and really enjoyed it. It was a sweet story of a boy who, after accidentally seeing an angry email directed at his uncle, gets caught up in trying to save a small patch of old growth redwoods. The environmental message in the book is a little simple, but the story is solid and amusingly told.
The Neddiad by Daniel Pinkwater
This one might be cheating because I think I did get a chance to recommend the whole oeuvre of Daniel Pinkwater once. If you’re not familiar with his works, Pinkwater is a writer of outrageous fiction. This middle grades novel is as outrageous as any I’ve ever read. It follows Neddie Wentworthstein (Pinkwater is a master of names) as he moves with his family to Hollywood. There are ghosts, movie stars, aliens and a Los Angeles that has disappeared into glimmering history. As with all of Pinkwater’s works, this is a book where one wonders who it can possibly be for. However, it must be for someone. Some kid with an equally outrageous sense of humor, who has graduated from Roald Dahl and needs something even weirder.