What's also good is the number of amazing opportunities authors are putting out right now. Authors, illustrators, and publishers have been SO GENEROUS with their time and energy. I know the kids must love seeing all the storytelling, drawing lessons, and writing lessons they've been offering. I know I have!
I was lucky enough to read some excellent middle grade fiction this week. I'm a big fan of Rebecca Stead's work and her latest one is as least as good as her other work, maybe even better. This one is called "The List of Things That Will Not Change". It's about Bea, who has two parents who love her dearly, but live in separate houses now. It's apparent from Bea's voice, almost right away, that she thinks about things a bit differently than than most people. One kind of person might say it seems like she's on the autism spectrum or she has ASD, but what's clear is that social interaction is hard for her and that she's had to learn to interpret emotional responses as well as understand why her responses might make other people unhappy. Change is also difficult for Bea, so when Bea's parents got divorced, the first thing they did was make a list of the things that will not change. So Bea lives part of the time with her mom and part with her dad and his new significant other, Jessie. Bea loves Jessie so when her dad and Jessie decide to get married, Bea is really excited that she'll be getting a sister (from Jessie's previous marriage). Bea's new sister is living with her mom in California so she has a lot of new things to process. Bea is also struggling with some guilt over something that happened with her cousin when they were younger and comes out in small pieces over the course of the story. This is a lovely story of coping with things you can't change (like practically everything that's happening here right now!) but also how even though somethings DO change, sometimes it's even better than you thought it would be. And even when things do change, there are somethings that never change and that's really great too. I think the kids are going to like the voice of Bea and her completely awesome family. This is going to be a great one for building empathy. It's perfect for middle grade readers!
And here's a video review from Colby Sharp about it!
The second book feels like a journey far, far away, because it is! It's called Music for Tigers by Michelle Kadarusman. The main character, Louisa, is a middle schooler, and she REALLY wants to spend the summer practicing her violin at home in Toronto, Canada. But her parents have other ideas. They are both scientists who are working on different projects in different place, so they decide to send her to stay with her uncle in Australia. He lives far out in the bush at a kind of an unofficial wildlife reserve where there family has lived for generations. Louisa is surprised at how different Australia is and how strange her uncle seems, but luckily there is an eco lodge near by with a boy just her age and his mom was a friend her mother's AND they have (some) internet access. But the boy, Colin, turns out to have neurological differences (which means he often misses social cues, like people making fun of him), even if he is really smart. What's great about this ancestral home is that Louisa is learning a lot about her family history (her great, great aunt left a journal!) and her uncle and Colin are great about teaching her about the animals and plants of Australia. It turns out Louisa is also struggling with anxiety about her violin playing and when Louisa gets a chance to use her violin to help an animal, it feels like things might really come together.
This was a super interesting book, with tons of natural history information about Australia, including plants, animals, seasons, and stars. The characters were really nice people and I was sorry when the book was over! I think kids who are at all interested in the natural world or Australia will like this one a lot and the parts about kids who have neurological differences is a great addition to the story. Highly recommend for upper elementary and middle school.