Tag Archives: family

Uni-sensors, FARTs, and Mr. X

incredible magicWow. Just wow.

Julian is special, but in so many ways that you don’t really even want to label them individually, because it might just make the greatness of who he is a little less.  His older sister Pookie is an angry teenage drama queen.  His moms have issues of their own.  And then there’s Mr. X, a neighbor who’s lost his wife and turns out to be special and mysterious in his own ways.

Julian is in the middle of all of them and on the outside all at once.  He loves science, space, and astronomers.  He wants to get a dog and name it Sirius after the Dog Star.  He wants to help his sister, his moms, and Mr. X, but he goes about it in ways that might be unexpected, funny, or slightly dangerous.

There’s a lot to like about this book—Julian’s funny and somewhat combative conversations with Mr. X, his “Facts and Random Thoughts,” also known as FARTS, Pookie’s fascination with Matt Damon and her biological father, the whole crazy family they are…

Just wow.

The Incredible Magic of Being by Katherine Erskine

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Clayton, Cool Papa, and Wah-Wah Nita

I cclayton-birdan relate to Clayton Bird.  I may be a middle-aged white woman living in Iowa, but I understand his pain.  I might not have grown up with a blues-playing grandpa–mine was known to ride a banana seat bike now and then, but wouldn’t have known what to do with a guitar—but I know how important people other than parents can be when you’re growing up.  I remember being angry about injustice when I was a kid, or at least what I saw as injustice in my own life.  And I know grief, really crushing grief that hides out in unexpected places and hits you at all the wrong times.

Clayton is the kind of character everyone can relate to on some level, although he might not look like many of the kids I knew growing up.  That’s what’s so wonderful about Rita Williams-Garcia’s work.  Her characters are simultaneously universal and completely unique.  The small details make you think of your Uncle Rich or that kid you went to school with who had a goofy nickname or your best friend’s mom or whoever.   His story, like many of Williams-Garcia’s, celebrates an ordinary life with extraordinary moments—moments which reveal quite a bit about our society as a whole and how kids navigate it. Her characters’ experiences reach out to you, whoever you are, wherever you live.  It’s a gift we are so, so lucky to be able to witness and enjoy.

And if all that weren’t enough, Ms. Williams-Garcia mentions Kathi Appelt in her note at the end of the book.  We all know (or maybe we don’t) just how crazy I am about Kathi Appelt.  I’ve practically thrown her books at the 5th graders I visit if I find out they have somehow managed to miss them.  And  I don’t stop at once a year – she comes up repeatedly.  Actually, I’ve kind of done the same with Rita Williams-Garcia’s books (One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven, Gone Crazy in Alabama) because they are a different and wonderful brand of fabulous.   Clearly, I’m just going to get worse.  Prepare.  Beware.

Clayton Bird Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

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The Penderwicks in Spring and other gentle reads

Cover-Penderwicks-Spring-450wSometimes you don’t need a book with mountain-climbing teenage spies or vampires in love. You’re just fine with a book that doesn’t involve kids fighting each other in arenas or desperately trying to escape evil villains. And you’re ok without the mean girls and the inspiring teacher who can change the world.

For me, there’s a definite time and place for more gentle reads, books that tell stories of daily life without quite so much drama, books that are so realistic you can imagine the people being someone you really know. Jeanne Birdsall’s latest, The Penderwicks in Spring, is like that. The Penderwick girls have aged, and now the youngest, Batty, is the center of the story. Her life is full of supportive family and good neighbors who care about her, but she still struggles sometimes. She worries about her neighbor who’s in the military, wonders whether her parents can afford vocal lessons for her, and tries to figure out how to handle her changing relationship with her family and friends. There are moments of humor and moments of sadness, but it’s a regular person’s life, and it ends like a regular person’s life would. There are no last-minute rescues from rebels in hovercraft.

If you’d like other less flashy, but still wonderful, feel good stories, try these:

The Penderwicks, Jeanne Birdsall

Absolutely Truly, Heather Vogel Frederick

Bo at Ballard Creek, Kirkpatrick Hill

Turtle in Paradise, Jennifer Holm

One Year in Coal Harbor, Polly Horvath

The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days, Michele Hurwitz

A Snicker of Magic, Natalie Lloyd

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, Sheila Turnage

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