This week, entirely by accident, I read only historical fiction. This is a genre that I love, but which I know can sometimes be a tricky sell to middle grade readers. As a librarian, my favorite historical fiction books are those that my students can relate to on an emotional level, even if they can't entirely relate to the time period in which they are set. I think the books I read this week qualify!
Every Day After, by Laura Golden, takes place in Alabama during the Depression. Lizzie is desperately trying to keep things afloat at home and school, despite the fact that her father has left town, her mother has slipped into an almost catatonic depression and the local bully has Lizzie in her sights. Relying upon (and sometimes abusing) her relationship with her lifelong best friend Ben, Lizzie stubbornly struggles to maintain her equilibrium and independence, despite her growing fear that her precarious situation will be discovered and she will be sent to an orphanage. While this book is very deeply situated in the South, in the Depression, I think many contemporary kids will relate to Lizzie's predicament (especially the stress that she experiences in co-existing with the school bully) and will appreciate her fierce loyalty to her family.
Paperboy by Vince Vawter is also set in the South in the past (Memphis, 1959). The narrator (whose name we only know as "Little Man") takes over his friend’s paper route for the summer. He is excited about this (he plays baseball and thrills, initially, in chucking the papers onto porches), but his stutter deeply limits his ability to express himself and his mind is constantly seeking ways to avoid certain sounds and situations. The paper route gives him the opportunity to observe and interact with adults in new, sometimes unsettling, sometimes joyful, ways. Race relations in Memphis in the late 1950s play a big part in this fictionalized autobiography and in the narrator's growing awareness of both himself and the world around him. I really loved "Little Man" and appreciated his honest evolution.
Finally, Cynthia Voigt's newest offering, The Book of Lost Things (Mister Max #1) is a satisfying and entertaining mystery set in the early 1900s. Max’s rather flighty parents disappear, ostensibly on a boat headed for India, but clearly all is not as it seems. Max is left feeling bewildered and abandoned, under the care of his librarian grandmother. Together they try to figure out what happened to Max’s parents, and Max, finding himself embroiled in a number of mysteries, fashions himself as a “solutioneer,” part sleuth, part problem solver. Excellent characters, a compelling mystery (which isn’t solved, as this is the start of a trilogy), and a good dose of humor make this a fun read!