Ah yes. I'm getting into the act. Shannon Whitney Messenger has an awesome meme she calls Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. Hop on over to her blog because she has a great contest going on there right now. Kudos to Shannon for shining a light on middle grade, since YA seems to get more attention online. She has lots of marvelous middle grade posts, so I won't link to all of them, but here's what I believe is the first one. So you can find out how this awesomeness started.
And it's catching. The other Shannon, Shannon O'Donnell, has a marvelous post too. And another one.
I was about to post a review of two middle-grade books anyway, so, heh heh, I'll just call them Marvelous and add my two cents. My apologies if you read other reviews of these months ago. I just discovered them recently.
Both have terrific Newbery potential and the awards will be announced in January. That's why I think they deserve a look now, if you haven't already read them.
First up, we have The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (Knopf, May 2010).
The setting is Cuba in 1961. Lucia is 14 years old and just wants to go to the beach, hang out with her friends, and dream of her first crush. But the revolution that started in 1959 takes a dangerous turn. Soldiers begin to appear on every street corner. Neighbors disappear. Freedoms are taken away. Lucia's parents decide to send Lucia and her little brother Frankie to the USA, where they will be safe in foster care.
They're taken in by a kindly older couple who run a farm in Nebraska. Nebraska is nothing like Cuba. It's cold! The food is way different. Although Lucia knows some English, it's hard to understand people. And then she and Frankie have to adapt to a new school.
Why is the book called The Red Umbrella? Back in Cuba, Mama had a large red umbrella. It always embarrassed Lucia because it was so big and so red. There are two wonderful moments involving this red umbrella that might make you cry, but you'll be smiling through your tears.
A sweet and touching historical fiction novel that deserves to at least win a Newbery honor. Lucia is a likable character who learns a lot about the meaning of home. You'll learn a lot about Cuba and the time period, while enjoying a fast-paced read.
Second is One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad, February 2010), which has gotten a lot of Newbery buzz among librarians and booksellers. It also deserves to win. Like The Red Umbrella, this is historical fiction, set in the 1960s. Also like The Red Umbrella, this is about a girl being sent far away from home and learning something new.
Delphine is 11 years old in 1968. She and her younger sisters Vonetta and Fern live in Brooklyn with Papa and Big Mama (their grandmother). Papa decides to send them to Oakland California to spend the summer with the mother they barely remember.
Cecille is cold and distant. She won't cook for them or even let them in the kitchen, because it's where she keeps her printing press. She writes and publishes poems under the name Nzila, and she's friendly with the Black Panthers.
In fact, Cecille sends all three girls to a summer camp in the city that's run by the Black Panthers. They learn about rights and revolution, and they also get free food. One of the best lines in the book is on page 73, when nine-year-old Vonetta says, "We didn't come for the revolution. We came for breakfast."
Despite that, they end up learning a lot about their rights and about revolution. Mostly, though, this is a story about family relationships and love. The three sisters have a wonderful rapport, and constantly finish each others' sentences. It's like poetry. From page 77: "When my sisters and I speak, it's like a song we sing, a game we play. We never need to pass signals." This is so true-to-life, it's inspiring. Although Delphine is clearly the protagonist, all three girls come to life. This is marvelous writing.
What marvelous middle grade novels have you read recently?