My TBR list (To Be Read pile) is growing into a novella, between the books I'm reading for Capitol Choices, Jefferson Cup, our new children's/YA books, and whatever I happen to be reading for School Library Journal (I don't blog about books I'm reading for SLJ) at the time. Here's a sample of what I've been reading recently:
Another book about a sibling death? Yes, but Umbrella Summer is pretty special. Annie is so consumed with her brother's death that she has become super cautious about everything, including wearing a helmet while walking down the street. And hot dogs for the Fourth of July? No way. You just cannot be too careful. It takes a new neighbor and a very special book about a pig and a spider to help Annie close her umbrella of sadness.
In the hands of another author, Umbrella Summer could easily have been a maudlin and depressive book with an unappealing character. Luckily, Lisa Graff has created such a realistic and darling character in Annie; you just want to hug Annie and help her over her fears. The appearance of a new friend who teaches wisdom and new life is definitely nothing new in literature, particularly in children's literature, but it seems right and true in this story. While there is certainly sadness in the story, it's not excessive and overbearing. It's the kind of sadness that is to be expected in a story about a family dealing with a sudden loss. It's also a beautiful and touching story.
The Year the Swallows Came Early
Groovy is convinced that her father's imprisonment is just a gigantic mistake. Unfortunately, she soon discovers that her mother's accusations of him gambling away her college fund are all too true. Thrown into a world of hurt, Groovy, an aspiring chef, strikes up a deal with a local Mexican restaurant. Throughout this short novel, Groovy learns about challenges, forgiveness, and new beginnings. Again, learning valuable life lessons is not anything new in children's literature, but this debut novel is so charming and true that it transcends that old chestnut. I'm here to tell you (as Groovy would say) that The Year the Swallows Came Early is something that you don't want to miss.
The Kind of Friends We Used to Be
Middle school brings such enormous changes. New school, new pool of classmates, new physical and emotional changes. It's not unusual for BFFs in elementary school to find themselves growing apart in middle school. That's exactly the kind of situation in which 12 year old Kate and Marilyn find themselves. Kate makes tryouts for the cheerleading squad and student council, which throw her into the elite clique at school. Meanwhile, Marilyn finds her passion in playing the guitar and composing songs, which lead her to the more "alternative" clique at school. The tension between the two friends (and their friends) will definitely ring true to YA readers, as well as the final outcome of the story. Frances O'Rourke Dowell has middle school culture down pat, without having to resort to arbitrary shoutouts of current fads and trends. She also shows, without preaching, that people's appearances aren't always what they seem to be (Kate is not an airhead; Marilyn's unusual new friend is the daughter of an evangelical minister), making this a fun and worthy YA read.