Tag Archives: friendship

Resistance is futile


Or not.  The pen is mightier than the sword, right?

What do we do in times of strife?  When neighbors and good people are being singled out for persecution or isolation or bullying?

Some writers write.  Katherine Applegate writes.

She’s written about cruelty to animals (The One and Only Ivan) and homelessness and hunger (Crenshaw).  Now Wishtree seems to be calling out to a moment troubled by anger and anti-Muslim sentiments, among other things.   Does it solve any problems?  No, not really.  Could it start some discussions?  Maybe.  In 211 pages, it manages to weave together a history of caring for each other with a tree, its residents, and the people of a neighborhood who might be on the edge of forgetting how we live together and care about each other.  It does this all quietly, with exactly the kind of stillness and humor you’d expect from a red oak.

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate


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Labyrinths, friends, being Bea

waytobeaMiddle school:  obstacle course or performance art?

It can be painful either way, right?  Bea is special and creative and perfect, but she doesn’t see that herself after she loses a friend over the summer before seventh grade.  She desperately wants to find a place for herself, but she questions everything.  These people can’t really like me!  No one will understand!  You almost wish you could jump ahead and know her as the really amazing young woman she’s going to turn out to be—the kind of friend who embraces the quirky in everyone and is kind and open-hearted and funny.

The Way to Bea is one of the best middle grade books I’ve read this year, because it finds such simultaneously light and deep moments in its middle school characters at such a confusing, awkward, and sometimes painful point in their lives.  Our daily lives are not all extraordinary, but we might just be extraordinary once in a while.  It’s also very, very nice to see supportive and equally quirky teachers who are looking out for kids and not part of the problem.  I know so many great teachers that I find it kind of upsetting to read fiction that paints them as unfeeling, annoying, demanding, checked out, or creepy – the kinds of teachers who will always believe a bully because his dad is rich or just do not want to get involved at all.  I don’t know teachers like that – really – so it bugs me when writers use them as an easy target.

So read this one, and then spend a few minutes with Bea creating your own haiku.  Mine?

mazes and labyrinths

blind alleys or peaceful still

which path will you choose?

The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh

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Normal is overrated

tumble and blueIf you’ve been looking for a trip into the land of quirky relatives with curses or gifts, you should take a look here. Also think about checking out Savvy, Scumble, and Switch by Ingrid Law, A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, or A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff.

If you’ve been looking for a game-changing, mysterious, magical creature, also consider this one, and then read Kathi Appelt’s The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp or The Underneath if you’ve missed them before. (I might ask how that would even be possible, but not everyone out there is fangirling over Kathi Appelt like me.  Right.  Do something about that if it’s you.)

It’s the combination of these that makes Tumble and Blue such a nice escape from reality and such a wonderful follow-up for Circus Mirandus.  Tumble and Blue are strong characters (although they might not realize it) who become the deepest of friends in the most bizarre of situations.  You might think you’ve guessed the ending long before you get to it, but you might be wrong, and even if you’re right, the journey with Tumble and Blue is worth taking for all the wacky and quiet and human moments.

Tumble and Blue by Cassie Beasley

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Friendships, good and bad

real friendsThere are so many kinds of friends, aren’t there?  Sometimes you have a friend who begins to feel like all you need.  Then she moves.  Maybe you manage to end up in a bigger group of friends later on.  There will be a kind of unhappy, mean “friend” somewhere in there who’s more concerned with being first at being someone’s best friend than in being friends with everyone.  Or maybe they make fun of you because you’re different, even though they claim they’re only telling you to help you.

Friendship, like love, is so very complicated, which is why I liked this graphic novel/memoir so much.  It reminded me of many happy, silly afternoons as a child, playing in imaginary worlds with a friend.  It also reminded me of some uncomfortable and painful moments.  Both are important things to talk about with kids, since their lives are as complicated, if not more complicated than ours.

I, thank goodness, never had to navigate friendship by way of social media.  I screwed up a lot of things, but no one was saving screenshots of my mistakes.  Maybe there are damning pictures out there somewhere in a shoe box, but my biggest humiliations only take up space in my memory.

I prefer to remember the happier times: building forts under the picnic table, having dance contests at slumber parties, and lying in the shade of the big tree looking at the clouds shaped like turtles and whales.

Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham


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Are Colette’s pants on fire? Or is she just blessed with an awesome imagination?

colettes lost petPerhaps a little of both.  Colette might be wanting a pet.  A LOT. Other neighborhood kids seem to be looking for something to do.  Clearly they don’t have 24/7 access to electronics, because so many of them are playing outside.  Before you know it, they rally to look for the pet, not even seeming especially bothered by the Colette’s announcement later on that her pet bird became so large it wouldn’t fit in the house anymore.

It might be an interesting book to read with a child who has a flimsy grasp on honesty.  How would they react to Colette’s story?  Or you might just like to read it for its whimsical and imaginative journey through an afternoon with some neighborhood kids.  It’s a sweet read either way.

Colette’s Lost Pet by Isabelle Arsenault

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Some of these are just for me

carrot and peaCarrot & Pea: an unlikely friendship is one of those incredibly sweet (not saccharine) picture books we could use to talk about tolerance and acceptance, how all of us have something to add to the world, no matter how different we look or seem to be.  And that is exactly what I thought when I read it last night.

And then I woke up this morning, wondering.  Why is the carrot a rectangular carrot stick and not a carrot with greens on top?  Or is it a carrot that’s been processed?  And all the peas are out of their pods, right?  So maybe these peas and carrots are in a vegetable processing plant, which makes the absence of other carrots suspicious.  Why is this carrot the only one?  What has happened to all of the other carrots?  Has there been some kind of epic disappearance?  A plague on carrots alone?

Ok, so maybe I think ridiculous things when I first wake up.  When I told my son about it, he said, “Well, obviously they’re all in a bag of frozen peas and carrots, and some human has eaten all the carrots but just can’t stand peas.  The carrot that’s left was just missed in the massacre.”

Well, at least I’m not the only one in the house with an imagination.

Read this one, though.  It’s a treat, as long as you can handle the suspense and sinking feeling that something is not quite right in Pealand.  Kidding.  Really.

Carrot & Pea: an unlikely friendship by Morag Hood

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Friendships, found and lost

Does the ghost of a goldfish over an empty bowl require explanation?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  You might not need to explain the fact that the ghost is there because a goldfish has died, although you don’t see the body or anything.  Anyone who’s lost a fish and had the funeral in the garden — covering the goldfish grave with shells gathered on a beach – will understand what has happened.  And by the time the new fish appears several pages in, it’s clear what has happened.

But is it sad?  Not especially.  Goldfish Ghost is about friendships found, not lost.  The ocean fish ghosts might not be the right place for a goldfish ghost, but the right place and person/ghost will appear, right?  This struck me as kind of a weird book for children initially.  (Weird?  From Lemony Snicker/Daniel Handler?  What a surprise!)  It’s not a warm and fuzzy book about losing your goldfish and dealing with grief, but it IS, somewhat strangely, a book about it being ok that goldfish–and by extension, people – die.  Also, there are some wonderful visual references to other children’s books about fish.  That’s cool, too.

South, on the other hand, is about friendships lost.  Sometimes the person, or bird, you befriend cannot overwinter where you are.  They could stay with you, but it just wouldn’t be right to hold them back from what they’re meant to do and the home they’re meant to find.  Can you be happy at the new life they will lead?  You can.  Can you find joy in your own?  Of course.   And there’s more wonderful detail here to find – a picture of a squid, a cactus, a Polaroid camera, whales, expressive mustaches…

Goldfish Ghost by Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown

South by Daniel Duncan



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Two for the adventurous

Cinderstella is every nerdy girl’s dream.  Oh sure, she’s got to deal with the stepsisters and the clothes and everybody freaking out about the ball, but really, WHO CARES?  It’s a ball. It’s not rocket science, people, and rocket science is much more interesting.  Use your fairy godmother to do something cool like becoming an astronaut, for Pete’s sake.  And you might just bring your stepsisters and a few others along.

The Friend Ship is full of animals on a quest, animals who don’t realize they have already found what they’re looking for.  Hedgehog misunderstands “friendship” to be a literal “friend ship,” so Hedgehog heads out to sea in a ship that fills up quickly with other animals looking for the same thing.  They are having an awfully good time, these deer and bears and farm animals, and so will you.  Finding friends can be tough and confusing, much like an ocean voyage, but taking that risk and getting out there will bring unexpected and delightful rewards, right?

What’s great about both of these book is the way they deal with the journey that life is, the way you pick things up (map-reading, maybe an elephant) and keep moving and changing towards a future you might not even fully realize.  How wonderful to be able to think about the possibilities and dream of what might be?!

Cinderstella by Brenda S. Miles, Susan D. Sweet, and Valeria Docampo

The Friend Ship by Kat Yeh and Chuck Groenink

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Kate DiCamillo – cheerleader, life coach or Jedi knight?

bk_raymieWhat is it with Kate DiCamillo, and how is it that I don’t hate her?  Her writing about everyday life is so good, so luminous, that I have laughed, cried, and gasped while reading her books.  Her characters are so perfect and imperfect that I feel like I know them, and yet they are 5,000 times more interesting than anyone I’ve actually known.  She could write my shopping list and make it a million times better, funnier, and more interesting, joining Kathi Appelt and J.K. Rowling in a rather exclusive little club I’ve created in my head for awesome writers.

I mean, really.  You hear these people have new books coming out, and you think, “Ok, excellent!  I have something to look forward to now!”  Sometimes, almost always, the books live up to what you are hoping for, because these writers are just that good.  But once in a while, you get a Raymie Nightingale, which has not just several baton twirlers, but also a few crazy old ladies, many strong women, and some difficult and delusional new friends.  And there’s Mrs. Sylvester, with her voice like a cartoon bird, and the ever-mysterious Marsha Jean, who’s got Louisiana Elefante and her grandma always on the run.  And there’s more!  There are sentences you would not believe – “People left and people died and people went to memorial services and put orange blocks of cheese into their purses” – which are completely crazy but always work perfectly somehow.

Kate DiCamillo is like a high school cheerleader, the one who’s nice to absolutely everyone and manages to pull off the Farrah Fawcett haircut to boot.  She’s the college professor who’s everyone’s life coach, who’s unfailingly supportive when others are not and who seems to honestly believe you really can do what you dream of,  She’s a Jedi knight, bringing light to a dark, scary world, fighting for something bigger, and recognizing the remarkable humanity inside all of us imperfect humans.  I’ve known these people (except for the Jedi knight, although I have some pretty wonderful friends who might stand in) and while you’d kind of like to hate them sometimes, you can’t.  They are just too good.

And Raymie Nightingale?  It’s too good, too.

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Where did I put those darn labels?


Loss and change.  Loss and change.  Sometimes I feel like I could stick those labels on books, one after another.  Recently, I feel like the ante’s been upped.  You can’t just have lost a parent or sibling.  You have to lose more than one.  Or maybe you’ve got an autistic sibling and lost a parent, too?  Or maybe your special needs cousin is the murderer of your star athlete brother?

Yes. I realize I’m exaggerating.  It’s only when I start to feel this way and then come across a really good book about loss and change that I realize how ridiculous I am.

And so it was for Summerlost.  I admit that I charged past the flap of the book (which mentioned two deaths in the first sentence) mainly because I’ve read Ally Condie’s teen novels in the Matched series and remembered liking them.  Having a previous and positive relationship with an author counts a lot for me.

Cedar and Leo become friends around a summer theater festival.  Their parents are busy and somewhat disengaged.  Their siblings drift in and out of their lives, depending on everyone’s responsibilities and what needs to get done.  Cedar is still grieving the loss of her dad and her brother, and finding a job at the festival gives her a purpose.  Leo realizes Cedar can help him with an idea for a side project, and they become friends.

There’s no lack of quirky characters in middle grade fiction, although you don’t come across many who are effortlessly quirky and genuine–as Leo is.  He cares deeply about things others haven’t even noticed, and he doesn’t seem especially concerned about being so different sometimes.  He just is who he is, right up until the moment you realize he’s spent months trying to find a way to connect with his dad.  Suddenly, in just a few words, he exposes layers of doubt and pain.

Cedar’s friendship with Leo is not always an easy one, but it rings true. I never knew anyone exactly like Leo, but my youth was filled with quirky and completely fascinating boys.  You liked and admired them sometimes, but you never like liked them.  And that’s the real beauty of this book – their friendship.  It’s complicated and awkward and imperfect, but it’s also really wonderful and life-changing.  You think back on friendships you had when you were young–or even friendships you have now–and remember how those moments together were powerful and sent you off in a direction you didn’t expect.  Sometimes there’s sadness in that, but sometimes, the memories are colored with the light of a summer day fading into night and the promise of more summer days to come.

Summer lost?  Not lost at all, it turns out.

Summerlost by Ally Condie

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