2016 Middle Grade Fiction: Short Takes

Lizzie and the Lost Baby, by Cheryl Blackford. (realistic fiction)I thought this one was a good little story. The themes of truth-telling and treating others with respect and forbearance were well integrated into the story. A family of gypsies accidentally lose their baby girl, left alone and immediately rescued in a pasture, and the nearby community (in England) treat them with disdain and prejudice. One child, Lizzie, stands up for what is right against all the adults who are perpetuating an injustice.

Mrs. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson. (realistic fiction) Topher, Brand and Steve’s favorite teacher, Mrs. Bixby, announces she’s leaving school to go into treatment for cancer; the three boys make a plan to provide Mrs. Bixby with a day she will never forget. I wish Mr. Anderson had kept the language above board, and the boy humor toned down a little (or a lot). As it was, I loved the story but can’t really recommend it. If your tolerance for mild swearing and boogers and such is higher than mine, you should check it out.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker. (talking to each other animals) If you love foxes and nature and if you think people are the bad guys, spoiling the foxes’ natural habitat . . .

Ramie Nightingale by Kate diCamillo. (unbelievable supposedly realistic fiction?) If Ramie Clarke can just win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. Maybe it was my mood, but I found this one, by one of my favorite contemporary authors, entirely too “precious”, something I don’t often have a problem with. I’m all for kitsch and cuteness usually, but in this one the girls and the peripheral characters were just not believable.

The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner. (fantasy) This book about a ten year old girl and her drug-addicted older sister would be great bibliotherapy for middle graders with a family member who is drug abuser, but I’m not sure whether issue-driven fiction is appealing to the general reader or not. On the one hand drug abuse is rampant, and many kids might encounter it in themselves or in family members. On the other hand, well, the whole protecting kids while they are young and not scaring them about horrible stuff is a good thing, too. I’m also not sure what exactly the message is about magic/wishes/prayer. Pray and hope and wish, but don’t expect too much? Prayers and magical wishes are similar ways of coping, but be careful what you ask for?

The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg. Eleven year old John Watson moves to New York City, and his first (and only) friend is the great detective Shelby Holmes, who is a bit eccentric and difficult to understand, to say the least. Shelby, a nine year old wonder at solving mysteries, is definitely lacking in the area of people skills. Can she and John become friend and colleagues in spite of Shelby’s off-putting manner? Can they solve the mystery of the missing show dog—together? Good introduction to the Sherlock Holmes genre and to the idea of difficult personalities and grace extended for personal quirks.

Guile by Constance Cooper. (probably YA fantasy) “Sixteen-year-old orphan Yonie Watereye scrapes a living posing as someone who can sense the presence of guile (magic), though in fact she has no such power–it’s her talking cat, LaRue, who secretly performs the work.” (Goodreads) Creepy, but good, with themes that are probably a little too mature for middle grades.

The Worst Night Ever by Dave Barry. I love Dave Barry’s newspaper columns, but I’m not sure he has the best style for middle grade fiction. I meant to read the first book in this series, The Worst Class Trip Ever, but I never got around to it. In this one, which is about a kidnapped ferret and a ring of illegal rare animal importers, there’s a lot of repetition of jokes that aren’t very funny to start with: “My best friend Matt is an idiot”, repeated over and over. “It’s a komodo dragon, not a kimono dragon”, repeated at least three times by three different characters. Stupid dad. Crazy mom. That sort of thing. Maybe some kids would like the humor, but I was bored.

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