The Man Who Loved Clowns by June Rae Wood

“…I loved Punky with all my heart and yet felt ashamed of him for the first time in my life.” Delrita Jensen has recently moved into town after living in the country all of her life. It is tough moving to a new town when you’re 13 years old. It’s even harder when you live with your uncle who has Down’s syndrome. Kids make fun of him, and Delrita has decided that she must be “invisible” at school.

But when she meets the red-haired Shackleford family, her invisibility begins to slip! She has to share a math book with Avanelle, so she meets the entire family. The family is new to town, and they have their own secret.

When a horrible tragedy strikes, Delrita’s life and Punky’s are changed forever. This is a story of what happens when we open our hearts to love.

This book won the William Allen White Children’s Book Award in Kansas. The award is voted on by kids! My students loved it when I read this book to them. It gives a chance to talk about folks who have disabilities and how we should treat them. Spoiler alert—keep a tissue handy!

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall

“On a bitter November day in Washington, D.C., when everything felt metallic—when the sky was gray and the wind stung and the dry leaves were making death-rattle sounds in the alleys—thirteen-year-old Arthur Owens picked up a brick from the corner of a crumbling building and threw it at an old man’s head.”

This is the first paragraph of a quirky book that we read in my summer book club! It certainly made us all want to see what would happen next!

The story is about Arthur, a boy who recently lost his father in a drunken accident. It is a story about redemption! It’s a story that will make you think!

At Arthur’s hearing before the judge, the junk-man asks to have Arthur do his work since he was injured when the brick hit him. So Arthur is required to do 4 hours of work a week until he completes 120 hours! He’s assigned a parole officer, Miss Billie, and he is to report to her. It takes him awhile to realize that he’s been sentenced to BE the Junk Man!

He’s given a list of things to find, and it turns out to be a difficult job! And when he doesn’t do it correctly, he gets in trouble with Miss Billie! It was really interesting to try to figure out why he had to find such unusual things! (This might be a good book to read aloud and discuss!)

Spoiler Alert—Ms. Pearsall got her idea for this book from a small folk art museum in Williamsburg, Virginia! Some of this book is real!

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord

“The only reason I ever spoke to Salma Santiago was because my dog ate her lunch.” Lily’s dog is blind, and she is frantic to stop him before he gets lost or hurt! That’s how she comes to meet the migrant families who come to Maine every year to work in the blueberry fields.

This is a great story about friendship and how it can change as kids grow up. It’s also about making new friends with kids you might not normally get to know!

And it’s a book with a lot of facts about growing blueberries! My book club kids said they learned many things they never knew about Maine and blueberries!

Lily is determined to earn enough money to pay for an operation on Lucky, her dog’s eyes. Salma helps her in her mission. How they work together to accomplish this goal makes this a great story!

Both boys and girls enjoyed this book!

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

“Nine robed figures dressed all in white. Heads covered with softly pointed hoods. Against the black night, a single wooden cross blazed. Reflections of peppery-red flames shimmered across the otherwise dark surface of Kilkenny Pond.”

So begins this book about the segregated south in the early 1900’s. Stella and her family live in Bumblebee, North Carolina. Late one night she and her little brother are up later than they should ever be up, much less wandering around outside. And they see something they’re not supposed to see!

This is a fascinating story of a girl who has the courage to fight fire with fire! It’s a book that takes the reader into a world that was unfair and cruel to the African-Americans. And it is based on Sharon Draper’s grandmother’s diary. Even though her grandmother was forced to stop going to school in the fifth grade, she insisted on writing in her journal every night by the light of the moon. In Draper’s dedication she writes: ” So this book is dedicated to my grandmother, Estelle Twitty Mills Davis. She listened to her elders and learned to survive pain. Her life was not always easy, and she struggled with many things. But she loved her children and she passed her strength along to them. And she kept her memories in that journal.”

I would recommend this book to older middle school kids. It might be too intense for the younger students unless you read it to them and talk about the events of the story.

This is the same author who wrote the wonderful story “Out of My Mind”,

The Gorillas of Gill Park by Amy Gordon

“I stammered back, “I’ll—I’ll ask my parents.” Gorilla suits? Thirty gorilla suits? What would it be like to spend the summer with someone who was making thirty gorilla suits?

Willie Wilson is an only child who has parents who seem a bit over-protective! He is tired of his mom making him practice his violin and spending time studying his school books—even though it’s summer.

But, he has no idea how interesting his summer will be when he decides to spend it with his aunt Bridget! There is the fountain in the park that changes colors with the music that is playing. There is a kid who asks him to be on a baseball team. There is a man who lives in an apartment inside a tree! There is a girl about his age who lives with the reclusive Otto Pettingill. This girl is pretty much on her own. Able to make her own decisions about almost everything! There is some mystery! Who is Frank Featherstone, and why is he trying to buy Gill Park?

Each chapter begins with a quote from one of the characters. And the characters are very unusual folks! This book is a great middle-grade novel! I read this book aloud to my fourth graders, and they loved it!

Great summer read!

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

“My hopes, my dreams, my life…it’s over….I find myself face to face with the truth. My right leg has no foot. No ankle. No shin!” This is the reality for 16-year-old Jessica Carlise! Jessica was the star of the high school track team, and running was her life! How can she possibly handle such a devasting loss?
This book is actually divided into sections like a race: finish line, headwind, straightaway, adjusting the blocks, starting line. Each part tells the story of how Jessica is dealing with her crippling injury.
Because she is in a wheelchair, the teacher puts her at a table in the back of the room with a girl who has cerebral palsy. Jessica has never even noticed this person! Now she finds herself “stuck” with Rosa. But, this leads to new insights on Jessica’s part! She discovers that Rosa is brilliant in math! She learns to understand Rosa’s speech. They become friends, and Jessica learns what it is like to really see another person!
While this book is quite filled with medical details and emotional stress, it is a truly inspiring story! My book club kids really “got” the way Rosa felt like nobody even noticed her!
As the School Library Journal said, this book is “a study in faith and determination. Readers will cheer for Jessica’s recovery and be reminded to recognize people for their strengths and not overlook them because of their disabilities.”
A Great Book for older Middle School Students!

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor

“It’s 6:23 a.m. I scoot forward and put my lips close to the microphone of the prison PA system.” How can an 11-year-old be living in a prison?

Award winning author, Leslie Connor writes a wonderful story about what happens to a boy who has lived in a minimum security prison in Nebraska for his entire life.

Perry has been able to stay with his mom because of a caring warden. He knows the “rezzes” (residents), and the warden’s niece picks him up for school in a town nearby. All is going well until a new, ambitious district attorney decides that Perry needs to live in a foster home on the “outside”.

Perry is desperate to get back to his mom. His mom’s parole hearing is coming up, and he’s afraid she won’t get parole because of him! So Perry and his best friend, Zoey go on a quest to find out why his mom is in prison, and will the true facts help or hurt!

This is a wonderful story about what can make a family, and how love and forgiveness are so valuable. I think boys would like this book as much as girls! Gary D. Schmidt, award winning author, describes it as “A deeply moving, even inspiring novel.”