Lisa Graff has written several books for middle grade readers, including the National Book Award nominee A Tangle of Knots. Graff has an uncanny ability to give a simple story an intensity that makes you want to keep turning the pages. In her latest offering, Absolutely Almost, 11-year-old Albie is struggling with the idea that he should be “better” than he is: better at math, better at spelling, better at being cool. We asked Graff a few questions about Albie, about writing, and about fitting in.
Somewhere around a child’s fourth birthday, the whine begins. At first it’s a soft sound, the gentle “aww” whenever anyone walks by with a puppy or friendly dog, and the begging grows with every cat video that pops up on any website. It hits a fever pitch when someone—a neighbor, a relative—gets a puppy or a kitty or a goldfish. Soon, you give in and get a pet. Thank goodness there are some new picture books that are almost as lovable as your new responsibility.
It is true that Lisa Graff’s latest book, Absolutely Almost, brings to mind someone else’s work, but not because Graff is in any way imitative—she’s far too brilliant to sound like someone else. Lately the patrons of my school library have been asking, “Do you have any books like Wonder by R.J. Palacio?” and now I have the perfect offering. Like Wonder, Absolutely Almost is the story of a boy struggling to fit in. Unlike Auggie, however, Graff’s protagonist Albie doesn’t have any noticeable problems; he just cannot succeed at school.
Following Countdown, Deborah Wiles’ tale about the Cuban Missile Crisis and the first book in her Sixties Trilogy, Revolution spotlights the Freedom Summer of 1964. During this volatile time, black and white volunteers from four major civil rights organizations joined efforts to register as many African-American voters as possible in Mississippi, at the time one of the country’s most racist and dangerous states.
Inspired by the author’s own childhood in Mississippi in the ’60s, Revolution is an unforgettable story of big changes—for a nation and for the two young characters at the heart of this book.
I feel confident that many of us will look back on 2014, once it’s all said and done, and acknowledge that Peter Sís plus Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was one of the best possible pairings. In The Pilot and the Little Prince, Sís explores the writer and aviator’s life, from childhood to death, with engaging reverence and intricate, detailed illustrations for which he’s won multiple awards.
Author James Howe, known for Bunnicula and countless other children’s books, tackles the angst of teen life in his Misfits series. Also Known as Elvis, the fourth and final installment, gives voice to 13-year-old Skeezie Tookis, the odd one out who has to work and babysit his cantankerous sisters all summer while his four best friends relax on vacation.
The co-creator of the best-selling Ladybug Girl series brings readers an entertaining tale of sibling camaraderie, starring three bears who live by the sea. Their story, a classic hero’s journey (home, adventure and home again), is one of excitement, danger, a little bit of mischief and lots of understated humor.
Everyone should read Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird; at least that’s what eighth-graders Lucy and her friends Michael and Elena think. In fact, they believe so strongly in this summer reading-list classic that they decide to put their clever and surreptitious marketing skills to work to get everyone talking about—and searching for—the book. The trio begins creatively “hiding” copies of the book in stores and libraries; they’re not doing anything illegal, just generating some buzz.
From the title of Jonathan Auxier’s fascinating, original (and more than a little creepy) version of a Victorian ghost story, one might suppose that The Night Gardener is, like The Secret Garden, a sweet, perhaps a bit sentimental, coming-of-age story. And while the novel does share some elements with the classic tale, including orphans (Molly and her little brother Kip); a creepy mansion; spoiled children (Penny and Alistair Windsor); and somewhat magical growing things, The Night Gardener is decidedly darker—in the most delicious and delightful way.