Tuesday, October 8, 2013

So You Want to Read Middle Grade: Bobbie Pyron

Bobbie Pyron is the author of several middle grade novels including A Dog's Way Home. You can find her online at: http://bobbiepyron.com/

I love middle-grade books. I love reading them and writing them—I love introducing the uninitiated to the fun and passion and compassion, the heart in middle grade books. These are the books that touched us most deeply when we are at that age of questioning the world around us and the world within us; the books that helped us feel less alone in the world. Whether it’s a funny story about a wimpy kid, an intriguing story narrated by a gorilla, or a book written in verse about a boy and a dog who need each other, these middle-grade books all have one thing in common: they are books full of heart, books that, when we finish the last sentence, we clutch them to our heart and say with a happy sigh, “Oh, I loved that story!”  Here are some of my favorites:

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. Kate D. is the Queen of Hearts, in my opinion. There are few authors out there who can match the compassion and beauty of her books. This story about a vein toy rabbit who has to go through hell and back to find out what really matters in life is absolutely astonishing. Like others, Because of Winn-Dixie, is also a book of hers I love, but for shear beauty and heart, Edward Tulane is my favorite.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp by Kathi Appelt is my latest rave. Who can resist an-almost-tall-tale about two dedicated raccoons, a kindly swamp monster, a nefarious alligator wrestler, and a young boy and his mother who need a boatload of cash to save their home and the Sugarman Swamp? Not me. As soon as I finished reading it, I hugged it to my heart, said, “I loved that story!” and started reading it again!

Missing May by Cynthia Rylant is, in my opinion, probably the most perfect book ever written. No surprise it won the Newbery Medal in 1993. Rylant has written a deceptively simple story about dealing with the loss of a loved one. Yet Missing May explores the definition of family, the importance of art, and understanding one’s place in the world with beautiful, crystalline writing.

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio is an example of the power of the middle-grade novel! This story of a young boy with terrible facial deformities and his attempt to enter the “normal” world has crossed all reading age groups. Adults and teens, everyone is reading this book! So you should too!

Kindred Souls by Patricia MacLachlan, author of the Newbery Award-winning Sarah Plain and Tall, is my favorite of hers since Sarah. Like all her books, Patricia writes with stunning simplicity about complex themes, always imbued with grace, heart, and gentle humor. This story of death as part of the cycle of life is no exception. Really, you can’t go wrong with any of MacLachlan’s books!

Little Dog, Lost by Marion Dane Bauer is another example of so much being conveyed with minimal, beautiful language. Written in free verse, Little Dog, Lost follows the journey of a little dog with airplane ears looking for her home, and a young boy who wants more than anything a dog in his life and how the two bring a community together. I loved this book!

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. No list of middle-grade books with heart would be complete with last year’s Newbery Award winner! Based on a true story (and real gorilla named Ivan), Applegate crafted a stunningly beautiful, surprisingly funny, and heartbreakingly compassionate story about a silverback gorilla who has spent most of his life in a roadside zoo. This is another book that, as soon as I finished reading the last sentence, I flipped right back to the first page and started it all over again.

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