Helen

The Sun Will Come Out by Joanne Levy

Things to love about this Canadian book – the title! The musical Annie is not as ubiquitous as it once was; but, the optimism of the title and the song – Tomorrow - are especially welcome, in April 2021.

The Sun Will Come Out is a coming of age novel. Here, that comes demarcated as our protagonist – Frankie – enters a summer camp world alone. Initially, she clings to her existing definitions of selfhood relative to her family and best friend; but, in her new surroundings they are increasingly meaningless. New relationships – arguably healthier ones – challenge her to redefine herself as more. Frankie spurs herself to try harder, because another friend is selfless and brave despite facing bigger problems. And when another friend needs help that only Frankie can offer – namely, stepping into the role of Annie – she steps beyond her identity as “the shy girl” and sings the songs she’s known by heart all along, with her clear, strong voice. That’s a pretty eloquent metaphor for growing up, isn’t it?

Middle Grade Fiction pr6130334

Trip of the Dead by Angela Misri

Sequels can be disappointing – not this one.

I loved Pickles vs the Zombies. This next installment features Trip - the lone raccoon character - leading an expedition and – eventually - several rescue missions. He befriends a bossy Irish hedgehog,  a squirrel with a fabulous tail (RuPeter) and a creepy boat, a family of beavers, and  - hooray!! - dozens of raccoons.  Trip’s away team includes an assertive, brave, respectful kitten (Yes, Sir! Mr. Trip!) trying to pull above her weight, and Pal the young owl who wipes out every time he lands. The hedgehog is constantly explaining to other animals what a hedgehog is. One of the raccoons, nevertheless, is constantly asking “what kind of raccoon are you, again?”

All of this content really appeals to my sense of humour – which - I flatter myself - is likely on par with the average nine to twelve year-old. One of the funniest characters – ever - is Emmy. She is a maniacal hamster warrior. She makes basically a cameo appearance in a climactic scene where she has engineered a trip rope trap/zombie bonfire. Fear not!

The author’s acknowledgements promise book three will feature Emmy, as the title - Valhamster suggests. I cannot wait! Meanwhile, please recommend this book to anyone who loves to laugh. (I’m hoping that’s everyone.)

Middle Grade Fiction pr5811912

The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman

I started this book because I wanted a simple, fun, escape from 2021 and all its COVID-19 glory – worrying, inconceivable dystopian headlines, irrational stupidity, etc. Mission accomplished with The Silver Arrow!

Two kids – Kate and her little brother Tom - climb onto a magic talking steam engine that charges off across their backyard and way beyond. Along the way they build a train with a candy car, a swimming pool car, a mystery car – and regular cars too - then drive all over the world picking up talking animals – only the ones with tickets, though. Kate and Tom, the train and all of the animals have hilarious conversations and a lot of fun.

Great books achieve more than one thing. Mixed into the action-packed, comedic plot are other themes. One theme stands out, that the world’s creatures are precious and need protecting. For example, all of the animal characters are unusual, endangered species – a white bellied heron, a pangolin, a fishing cat, a green mamba, etc. Mentioning these species might encourage kids to look them up. Also at one point the train needs firewood. Kate and Tom and their animal friends enter an ancient forest and ask the trees for wood. In exchange, they magically become trees for a time. The scenes that follow are incredibly moving, as Kate feels, moves, and experiences seasons, wind, cold, and sunshine, as a tree.

Finally, I’ll quote the mamba character (page 208) as I think this is the reason Lev Grossman wrote the book. The mamba says Kate shouldn’t “…feel bad about what humans have done…Feeling guilty doesn’t help… Humans are animals doing what all animals do: surviving. It’s just that you’ve done it too well… You’ve won, you’ve taken over the world. Now you just have to take care of it.”

Recommend this book to readers as a fun, magic escape. The book may also spark a passion for environmentalism.  

Middle Grade Fiction pr5685873

Ana on the Edge by A. J. Sass

LGBTQ books often have courageous, assured protagonists. To use the wonderful metaphor I first read at diversebooks.org, these protagonists’ stories open a window – or reflect a mirror - into what living their lives is like. They have had an awareness of their selfhood from an early age and the narrative shares a slice of time from their perspective.

Ana On the Edge is the first book I’ve read where the protagonist is unsure of their perspective. The narrative shares a slice of time in Ana-Marie’s life when “she” is becoming uncomfortable with fundamental parts of who she is – like the pronoun “she”. Ana-Marie has been a talented figure skater for many years and a champion for a few. At a time when her skating career should be taking off, certain details are causing her anxiety, distraction and failure. Her new coach wants her to wear a skirt (something she hasn’t done in years), her name feels foreign, and when a new friend – a boy – mistakes Ana-Marie for boy, it feels freeing. Trying on the pronoun “he” feels nice.

Ana-Marie’s story doesn’t wrap up all lose ends, her new selfhood set. Instead, the story is left open ended. Ana-Marie wants to be called Ana, and her courage comes in the form of sharing her anxiety and uncertainty with the people who love her. This is a fantastic book both for those of us who experience it as a window, and for those who will see a mirror.

Middle Grade Fiction pr5716994

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