Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai B.L. 4.8
Newbery Award and honor books are regarded as high quality writing for a reason. They often address issues that adults and, maybe especially children, face. This book discusses what it is like to be a refugee, however it is formatted differently than what would be considered normal. It is from the perspective of a 10-year-old girl whose family has to flee Vietnam during wartime. It is not only from her perspective, but is written in verse, which is different and attention getting. This does not have to be read at a certain pace or rhythm like other types of poetry. The format of the writing is mean to communicate a feeling and perhaps some underlying message, but this can be read exactly like any other book!
This novel discusses really difficult issues such as living in a war zone, escaping, and trying to make a new home in a place where not everyone is accepting. This is a great read for all ages, though the issues may be more difficult to grasp for younger readers. This can also be a good way to broach subjects such as empathy and acceptance.
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage B.L. 3.9
Three Times Lucky is a really interesting novel from the perspective of 11-year-old Moses LoBeau. Mo (as everyone calls her) is a very intelligent little girl who washed up in a stream in North Carolina as a newborn after a hurricane upstream--no doubt prompting the name “Moses.” Mo is taken in by the Colonel and Miss Lana who raise and love her.
The summer before Mo goes to 6th grade a new man comes to the tiny town of Tupelo Landing-- detective Starr-- as well as a murderer. Mo and her friend Dale start on the journey of finding the killer, while Mo continues to search for her Upstream Mother. Mo and Dale are caught up in a murder and kidnapping with some great twists and reveals in the novel. There is also some internal growth for Mo as she learns what her family in Tupelo means to her.
While this book is a 3.9 level, I would recommend it to slightly older readers. It may be difficult to grasp some language and terminology that is colloquial in North Carolina, but relatively foreign in this part of the country. It may also be difficult for younger readers to grasp the relationship dynamics between Mo, Colonel, and Miss Lana, as well as the abusive relationships in the Johnson family. Having said all of that, it was a really enjoyable book and will keep young and old readers entertained!
Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm B.L. 4.8
There is a lack of punctuation such as parenthesis during conversation, as well as commas. There is also an increase in capitalization that should normally only exist at the beginning of sentences and with proper nouns. This lack of adherence to common English rules and punctuations exists in order to emphasize that the story is being told by a 12-year-old pioneer with limited education. In her storytelling, things such as parentheses and commas don’t matter as much, and she capitalizes for emphasis rather than in adherence to any rules. This is a great facet of this book! The storytelling is not just through the words, but through the appearance and organization of the book as well, making it feel more genuine.
As for content, this book is really about May Amelia finding her place as the only girl among so many men. She-- like most children-- feels restricted in what she can do, mainly because she is told that she is not allowed to do the same things as her brothers. She is constantly testing her boundaries in order to find out who she is and what is going to be best for her. These issues are similar to those faced by many children and therefore I feel the book level is mostly appropriate. I say “mostly” because the book also addresses the topic of loss very poignantly. There is a lot of grief that May Amelia comes to terms with-- even though she may not fully understand it. This topic may be sensitive for some readers, but it is also important that it be addressed. Overall, this was a wonderful book for fifth grade readers and older.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate B.L. 3.6
This is a novel about a silverback gorilla, Ivan, who for decades is kept in a small cage in a roadside mall. Ivan begins the novel as a calm and patient gorilla surrounded by other animals who are attractions in the roadside mall. Ivan is not at peace with his situation, but has blocked out memories about where he came from and his former life in the wild. However, as he talks with Stella-- an elephant in a nearby cage-- and connects with a new addition to the mall, Ivan uses his love for art to fulfill a promise and save his friends.
This novel is based on a real-life gorilla who was kept in isolation for decades, and while it is a 3.6 reading level, and can be understood at that level, it is an emotionally mature story. There is some violence and a lot of heartache and sadness. However, this book does bring up good points about not settling for what you have always known, but aspiring to something more. It can also teach about using your talents and work to benefit others and improve yourself. This novel has great content and is a quick read. It may be best for readers who are a little older and able to understand and deal with the emotional turmoil in the book.
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham B.L. 4.1
Jean Lee Latham put an extensive amount of research into this historical fiction novel. It is about Nathaniel Bowditch, the man who wrote “The American Practical Navigator” which greatly improved the safety and accuracy of sailing. Mr. Bowditch is portrayed as an extremely intelligent man who has a passion for learning and sailing. There is some information that may be difficult for younger readers to fully grasp, but it is not overly technical. While there is mention of family members and spouses, these details fade into the background of the story. The main focus of the story is sailing and the study and learning of Nathaniel Bowditch which allow him to improve sailing for everyone. There is also a strong focus on Mr. Bowditch’s teaching efforts. He endeavors to teach those on the ship who are not well learned. Through this he learns how to explain sailing concepts and the mathematics involved in different and simpler ways in order to allow many people to learn and understand.
One overarching lesson that can be taken from this book is: Anyone can learn and improve themselves and their lives through hard work and dedication. This book might be a little difficult for younger readers to understand specifics, but it is a historical adventure that can be appreciated in some way or another by readers of any age.
Looking for some inspiration on what to read next? Who better to ask then the people who work around books for a living!? Each month we will post a "staff picks" blog post written by one of our staff members. These posts will vary in genre, theme, age appropriateness, etc. If you have any requests on a genre or age category you would like to see, submit a comment here and we will get it on the list!