Reading a book can be like riding a Ferris wheel, exhilarating and opening up new vistas. It’s a chance to sit with a new friend, the main character, exploring their world. In this post, we will learn about some books that took their reader on an invigorating ride. Three writers of middle grade books share their favorite, or most recent favorite, middle grade books.
A WOLF CALLED WANDER, by Rosanne Parry, 2019. Greenwillow Books, an imprint of Harper Collins.
This book touched my heart. Roseanne Parry’s respect for wolves and nature shines throughout the book. The main character, a wolf named Swift, is forced to leave his land. He starts a journey to find his family, who he thinks has also been displaced. He is led further and further away from his mountain land and encounters strange new habitats such as desert and prairie. He meets up with unusual friends, including a raven, and foes, such as humans.
The story is based upon a real wolf who journeyed 1000 miles from northeastern Oregon to southwestern Oregon. It is written in the first person, present tense, and describes the ways Swift interacts with his surroundings. The reader is able to experience the deep connections of wolves with their family and environment. Parry eloquently describes landscapes with life-saving water and starry skies. She marches the reader through ragged wounds and a horrendous forest fire.
THE BEATRYCE PROPHECY by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, 2021. Candlewick Press.
I have many favorites, but as soon as I heard that Kate (two-time Newbery Medalist) and Sophie (two-time Caldecott Medalist) were teaming up with Candlewick for a new book, set in medieval Europe, I knew I was in for a treat. Not only is it well written, richly illustrated, and timeless, but the characters leap off the page (in particular, the goat!) Great themes are touched upon using a minimum of words. Told in third person, past tense, the prose is gentle and lyrical. The grayscale pencil drawings are enchanting.
The story has a hero’s journey, cumulative plot, with characters multiplying as they head to their final destination (think Wizard of Oz), wherever that may be. Beatryce, shattered but strong, has lost her memory. She is the only girl of her time who can read and write and she knows the power of words. But now she must remember or discover who she is and where she belongs. Answelica is a personable, headstrong goat. Brother Edik is a loveable monk who seeks bravery. Jack Dory is a whimsical straight-out-of-a fairy-tale kind of Jack who whistles like a bird and appears happy-go-lucky but carries great sorrow. And lastly, Cannoc is a long ago king who still searches for his own true self. “We shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home.”
When I was in middle school I was very particular about what kind of books I wanted to read; mostly mystery novel series and science fiction series. I used to get strep throat a lot and was home from school one day. My mother walks into my room holding Island of the Blue Dolphins. I was adamant that I did not want to read this book, but eventually relented (if I didn’t like it I would just take a nap).
Turns out I loved it. I read it cover to cover in the afternoon, and again the next day. In the book, Karana’s family is killed by traders in an exchange gone wrong. A ship comes to rescue the survivors, but Karana gets left behind trying to save her brother. She lives alone on the island with the wild dogs, hiding from the traders, and living off the land. Although I never lived on an island like the main character, I understood what it was like to have a younger sibling, and in some ways what it felt like to be alone. I admired Karana’s strength and ingenuity. I was thrilled when she made a friend, and devastated when she loses her dog. This is my favorite book, because it made me realize that mysteries and light science fiction were good, but there could be books that were truly great.
The writing is in first person. It is descriptive but simply stated. A beautiful narrative that keeps you hooked. I have been so inspired by this novel that I’ve been writing a science fiction novel with some of the same themes. I guess at heart I’m still a mystery, science fiction girl.