The Middle Grade Issue
August 2013 - Issue #20
Welcome to the twentieth issue of The Book Smugglers' Newsletter! Last August, we had our first-ever middle grade themed newsletter. We loved it so much, and there are so many wonderful forthcoming middle grade titles this fall, that we simply had to make a repeat showing - with a twist. This month, our guest isn't an author, but a group of prolific and amazing bloggers. We presented these five bloggers with a fun, if slightly cruel, challenge: name your single favorite old school middle grade novel. (Don't worry, we're not entirely cold-hearted - we'll also have them over on The Book Smugglers later this month to list their top 5 favorite old school MG novels.)
But before we get to those impossible picks, here's a look at upcoming August releases that we are VERY excited to read:
Old School Middle Grade Novels
A List from 5 Bloggers
This month, we asked five of our favorite bloggers to do the impossible: come up with their single definitive favorite middle grade novel of ALL TIME. (We're mean. We know.) Luckily for us, these wonderful women rose to the challenge, and have come up with an amazing set of recommendations. Without further ado, we give the floor to these awesome bloggers:
Heidi of Bunbury in the Stacks: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (1995)
This one may seem like a no brainer, because who among us hasn’t read it? But if you’re sitting there feeling sheepish right now as you raise your hand, this recommendation is for you! Chosen because this is one that has affected me as deeply as an adult reader as it did when I was 12. Each reread reveals more layers and depth with concepts I hadn’t previously considered. Already read His Dark Materials series? Check out Pullman’s Sally Lockhart mysteries.
Charlotte of Charlotte's Library: The Little Broomstick, by Mary Stewart (1972)
Mary Stewart's romantic suspense novels have made a small comeback recently, but I don't think many people are aware that she also wrote some brilliant books for children. I had to think hard about whether to pick this one, or her book about a boy travelling with his horse through the realms of the zodiac (Ludo and the Star Horse), but in the end The Little Broomstick won, in part because it might be the earliest book to play with the concept of a school for witches. Mary is sent to her Great Aunt's house deep in the English countryside; there are no children her own age, and the only two creatures at all friendly are the gardener and a black cat, Tib. Mary finds a little broomstick, Tib leads her to the rare Fly-by-night flower, and next thing you know, the flower has made the broomstick fly...and Mary finds herself being taken by it to the stable yard (for brooms) of a school for witches. Although Mary is welcomed to the school as a prospective pupil (she did, after all, arrive by broom), it is not a friendly place. Horrible magical experiments are being performed on animals, including Tib's brother Gib. Gib's own owner, a boy named Peter, is desperately searching for him, and has found his own way to the magical school, and the two children, with Tib's help, end up rescuing the animals from their cages, and escaping the evil witches and warlocks in an utterly brilliant chase sequence that is one of my favorite bits of fantasy ever. This plot outline is just a sketch. Anyone familiar with Mary Stewart (and this is also true of her grown-up romance books, which I have read and re-read myself) knows what a truly describer she is. The pictures this book makes in the reader's mind will stay there forever. The plot, after its somewhat slow start, becomes utterly gripping, the school is deliciously scary, and the two kids are believable, relatable characters. Tib and Gib are a nice bonus for cat lovers, too!
Angie of Angieville: Blood Red Horse by K.M. Grant (2005)
This middle grade tale of the crusades had me at the blood red warhorse named Hosanna and the four children (on both sides of the conflict) who love him. Told in alternating viewpoints from the brothers who are sent to war, to the fierce girl they leave behind, to the solitary young boy tangled in Saladin’s web, each chapter builds to the inevitable thrilling, wrenching climax. This is the first in the deGranville Trilogy and it is well written, well researched, and equally appealing to boys and girls as it features such a strong quartet of main characters and not a little fighting on the grand scale. I love easygoing Will, prickly Gavin, and strong Ellie--the girl who learns to write in order to send letters across oceans and deserts to the boys on crusade. Will and Ellie are only twelve when it begins, and Gavin just a couple of years older. But by the end the three have grown into adulthood and faced the kind of challenges and grief many people twice their age haven't handled. This is just a wonderful start to a beguiling trilogy set against a a fascinating and harrowing period of history. It deserves far more attention than it's gotten.
Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy: A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver by E. L. Konigsburg (1973)
A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, E. L. Konigsburg (Atheneum, 1973), was the first book I thought of when thinking about middle grade favorites. A bit of an odd choice, because other titles are usually mentioned when talking about Konigsburg. For years, actually, I had forgotten the exact title – I think many readers have. It’s the book about Eleanor of Aquitaine in Heaven, waiting for Henry II to join her. Along the way, she and others reminisce about their lives. A Proud Taste is the reason I have always loved historical fiction and just don’t get why people would ever not love it. It started a love affair with Eleanor and Henry, creating quite a bias towards them so no matter what I may read in actual history books. You can take your upstart Tudors: give me the swashbuckling Plantagenets. Plus, I found this version of the afterlife oddly reassuring: Hell wasn’t permanent. Why a ten year old was that concerned about Hell, well, the only explanation I can think of is I went to Catholic school.
Ana (aka the Other Ana) of Things Mean A Lot: Two Weeks with the Queen by Morris Gleitzman
I suspect that most readers will find it hard to get through this book without at least tearing up, though they’ll probably find themselves laughing at the same time. The story is about a thirteen-year-old boy, Colin, whose younger brother is diagnosed with cancer, and who also forms an unlikely friendship with a young man whose boyfriend is dying of AIDS. Underneath that, Two Weeks with the Queen is a smart and moving story about the process of growing up; of losing faith in an omnipresent and benevolent They who will always make everything right. Gleitzman writes about this with neither cynicism nor nostalgia for an idealised form of childhood innocence. Instead, he shows us how one little boy can learn that the world isn’t fair and that bad things do indeed happen to good people without losing faith in the power of human kindness or in the strength of the bonds that tie us to one another.
Want to hear more from these amazing bloggers? Stop by our Old School Wednesday feature on 8/14 to read each of their top 5 old school middle grade novels!
The Book Smugglers' Middle Grade Picks
Fair's fair, right? After making others pick their favorite middle grade novels, we're obligated to list our own! And they are:
Ana's Picks (two of my picks are by Brazilian authors!)
1. A Droga da Obediência by Pedro Bandeira
2. O Menino Maluquinho by Ziraldo
3. Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
4. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
5. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia
1. The Giver by Lois Lowry
2. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
3. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
4. The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
5. Searching for Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
August 2013 Calendar
In which we share our upcoming schedule of big reviews and coverage (fancy reviews, author spotlights, and more)…
8/02 - Review of All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry
8/05 - Review of Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross
8/07 - Hodderscape Review Project: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
8/09 - Cover Reveal of Nomad by R.J. Anderson
8/12 - Review of Starglass by Phoebe North
8/13 - SFF in Conversation with Lizzie Barrett: Bias in SFF Awards
8/14 - Old School (MG) Wednesday: Blogger Roundtable
8/15 - Review of The Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer + The Perpetual Motion Club by Sue Lange
8/19 - Review of The Year of Shadows + Claire Legrand Guest Post
8/23 - Review of The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb
8/26 - Review of Bone Season by Samantha Shannon + Exclusive Art Reveal
8/28 - Old School Wednesday Readalong: Sorcery & Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer
8/30 - Review of Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth C. Wein
...and much, much more.