Gentle Reader

These are books for the gentle soul.  Feel-good stories, meaningful morals, heartwarming adventures.  No violence here.  Scroll down to Mary Pearson’s book, The Miles Between.  What would you want for your one perfect day?

Joan Bauer Almost Home

almost homeAlmost Home is one of those stories that hooks the reader from the first page.  It is a story of loss, struggle, and the strength of a family’s love that is told from the perspective of Sugar, a 12-year old who seems wiser than her years.  Sugar is living with her mom in Missouri when things start to unravel for them.  Her mom loses her job, and then they lose their home.  They relocate to a shelter at first, which forces Sugar to leave the school and teacher she loves.  At the promise of a job, her mom relocates them to Chicago.  Shush, a mistreated but loyal puppy, falls into their lives and makes the journey with them. At times, Sugar has to act as the responsible one in the mother-daughter relationship, and Shush helps them deal with life’s hardships.  When the job doesn’t come through, Sugar’s mom withdraws and is admitted to a hospital.  Finally, Sugar and her mother are given the love and support they have desperately needed.  Step by step, they rebuild their lives.  Sugar’s voice lends an honesty and purity to the story, and her flair for writing and polite but strong personality makes her a character that readers should root for.  Joan Bauer’s award-winning writing once again succeeds in building a memorable story around moving characters.

Eleanor Estes The Moffats, The Middle Moffat, Rufus M., The Moffat Museum

There are a series of Moffats books, published in the 1940s and 1950s.  That have been republished again and again.  Based on the author’s life, growing up  in a small New England town in the early 1900s, the reader gets a feel of the gentler, simpler times.  There are no huge dramas in the books, just lovely stories.  Perfect for elementary, middle and adult readers eager for an escape and an introduction to charming characters.  All of Estes’ books are lovely stories and worth reading again and again.  The illustrations by Louis Slobodkin help make the books as soothingly wonderful as they are.  Also, seek out her shorter story, The Hundred Dresses (Newbery Honor) about a young girl from a very poor family and the teasing she endures.  It is not until she leaves school that she receives the understanding she deserves.

Rachel FieldHitty: Her First Hundred Years  (1930 Newbery Award)

I could also put this under the Historical Fiction – US category but I prefer it here since it is more about adventures than history.  It takes the soulful reader to understand why this book is so marvelous.  The novel is a memoir of a doll’s first hundred years.  Hitty is carved out of mountain ash in the early 1800s and began her life in the proud state of Maine.  Before she ended up in an antiques shop in New Hampshire, she had many adventures.

Helen FrostHidden

hiddenAnother beautifully written lyrical book by Helen Frost.  Told in two voices with different formats.  When Wren was 8, she stayed in the back seat of the car while her mom went into the store for a moment.  She heard a gunshot and immediately crouched down, seconds later a man got into her car and drove off unaware of Wren.  Her voice is in free verse.  Darra, age 8, is the daughter of the man who stole the car and parked it in their garage.  Her voice is in longer lines that piece together to tell even more of her story.  Six years after the incident, the girls are at summer camp and recognize each other by their names.  Do they bury their past or confront it?  Be sure to read the pages at the end of the book, Diving Deeper:  Notes on Form.  This is a quick read and captivating.

Laura Gallego GarciaThe Legend of the Wandering King

Loosely based on the life of a prince in ancient Arabia, the writing eloquently portrays Prince Walid’s arrogance and conceit in punishing his poetic rival and better.  Seeing the error of his ways after destroying the man, he wanders about Arabia making amends.  That doesn’t sound like a description that screams, “Read this book!”  However, this is one of the most thoughtful, moving legend/fable books that I have read.  For the reader who is a deep thinker and likes to linger over books.  It is a rather short and quick read, around 200 pages.

Jo KnowlesSee you at Harry’s

see you at harry'sWe meet a busy, slightly dysfunctional family that owns a diner/ice cream restaurant called Harry’s.  Told from Fern’s point of view, she is the third of four children and has never quite had all the parental attention she would like.  Her sister, Sarah, is 18, but didn’t get into college so she is staying home, expected to work at the family restaurant.  Holden, 14, is routinely bullied at school and the torturous school bus for being gay.  Something he is slowly coming to terms with but hasn’t had the courage to admit to his family.  Fern knows, but doesn’t care.  She loves and adores Holden for who he is and will stick up for him whenever she can.  Charlie is the youngest and is a typical 3-year-old with equal parts cute, yucky, loving and annoying.  Their father shoots a commercial featuring the family much to the embarrassment of the older ones, but little Charlie ends the commercial with a catchy, “See you at Hawee’s”, that becomes the catch phrase around town.

Then tragedy strikes.  A family that is often too busy for each other learns to turn to each other.  While at first it looks like they will never be the same again, they begin to realize how much they love each other.  The writing excels, making this a difficult book to set aside because there was never a good stopping point.  It is the fluidity of the writing, the way the story unfolds and also how past events are woven into the present to tell the backstory.  This endears all of the flawed characters to the reader and shows how they grow as individuals and as a family.  The author does an excellent job with Holden’s coming to terms with his sexuality and facing his bullies and his concerned father.  Tissues are needed for this exceptional story and perfectly told.

E. L. KonigsburgFrom the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler (1968 Newbery Award)

I hope this book is still being actively read in elementaries.  It is fine for all ages.  Middle schoolers are not too old for it.  I reread it on occasion and I’m all grown up.  I love this book!  Any time I see a fountain, I think, INCOME!  Claudia has two younger siblings and feels taken for granted by her parents.  She makes meticulous plans to run away from home to teach her parents a lesson.   (Kids, don’t do this, it’s a story!)  She needs money so she enlists her brother, Jaimie, who has won some money in card games.  They runaway to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  While there, she gets caught up in the mystery of whether or not a prized statue is a Michelangelo original.

Thanhha LaiInside Out & Back Again

inside outThis fictionalized account of the author’s childhood in Vietnam during the civil war, the fall of Saigon, and new life in Alabama is written in free verse.  She never knew her father, who was highly educated but had been missing for many years.  Her mother was left to raise four children with scarce resources.  The difficult decision was made to flee Vietnam.  They gave up everything to start a new life.   The author has managed to pluck the emotions from her memory and convey them with such ease to the reader.  A deserving winner of the 2012 Newbery Honor Medal and the National Book Award, this is a must-read for all.

Mary E. PearsonThe Miles Between

Destiny has been shuffled from boarding school to boarding school telling others that her parents prefer to live their lives without her.  She’s miserable.  She goes on a tirade, spilling her feelings to a teacher, “All I want is one day where the good guys win.  One day where the world makes sense.  Just one day, where the world is fair.  Where it all adds up to what it should be.  Just one single fair day.  Is that too much to ask?”  She comes across a car with the key in the ignition, finds 3 other classmates and they go on a road trip where each person has one fair day, their perfect day.  And Destiny finds the answers she has denied herself all these years.  This is a beautiful story.  One example of the importance of marketing – the galley copy I received listed ages 14+.  Many professional reviewers reiterated the 14+ age designation.  I contacted the author about this and she hadn’t noticed what the publisher had put on the galleys.  There is nothing wrong with the content for younger readers.  It makes the perfect middle school book.  Wonderful story, no foul language, no sexual situations.  I carried a smile with me for days as the book continued to linger with me.

Rebecca RuppAfter Eli

Danny’s much-loved older brother, Eli, is killed fighting in Iraq.  His mother becomes despondent and his father becomes even more gruff and distant.  Danny spends one summer coming to terms with the death with the help of special friends.  Eli is the older brother that we all wish we had growing up.   He is many years older than Danny and has given Danny the kindness and understanding and big brother wisdom that Danny cherishes.  The book is Danny’s recollection of one summer during his high school years when his perspective on life changes.  Danny becomes friends with Isabelle and her brilliantly quirky younger twin siblings who have come to the small farm community for the summer.  He also hangs out with classmate Walter, who is a highly intelligent, logical reasoning kind of genius and definitely not in Danny’s “in crowd”.  After Eli is both a character study and a study of life so well written that it feels we are right there next to Danny, learning from him.  Filled with philosophical questions and musings, I have taken advantage of the note feature on my Kindle edition by highlighting these gems.  The book is an effortless read in that the author’s writing flows so naturally, yet the factoids and ideas tug at the brain.

Clare VanderpoolNavigating Early

navigating earlyThis story within a story is set in Maine at the close of World War II.  Jack was raised in Kansas by a loving mother while his military father was away from home serving in the war.  His mother dies suddenly and his father relocates Jack to a boarding school in Maine where Jack meets Early who has also suffered the loss of his family, specifically is older brother.  Early is unique, a genius, and has traits of Asperger’s Syndrome.  He sees stories in numbers and tells the story of Pi.  During a school holiday, Early leads Jack on a quest through the wilds of Maine, seeking to find his supposedly dead brother.

This is a magical book that weaves the story of the number Pi with the adventures that Jack and Early experience.  Brilliant, enchanting and lyrical.  I’m in awe of writers who can weave such a tale.  Every character is rich and deeply drawn from the pirates to lonely woodsman, Gunner, to Jack’s father to Jack and Early.  The author has proven once again why she deserves the accolades of being a Newbery author.  I hope this wins awards and praise and finds readers young and old.  Highly recommend.

Sarah Weeks –  So B. It: a novel

There are so many types of families and here is one that will tug at the heart.   Bernie is neighbor to young Heidi and her mother.  When Heidi was only a week old, Bernie discovers her young mentally challenged neighbor with a baby called So B It.  The mother has only a 23 word vocabulary.  The years go by and Bernie comes to care for Heidi and her mother while Heidi does the shopping for Bernie who has agoraphobia and does not leave her apartment.  It is a family unit that works.  There is also Heidi’s mystery to uncover – where she and Mama came from.  It’s a heart- felt story and a quick read.