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.”

The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

“Ada! Get back from that window!” Mam’s voice shouting. Mam’s arm, grabbing mine, yanking me so I toppled off my chair and fell hard to the floor.”

So begins a book about children living in London, England during World War II. Ada was born with a twisted foot, and her mother refuses to let her ever leave their one-room apartment. She won’t let her even talk to anyone from the window because she’s “a cripple.”

Ada’s six-year-old brother is allowed to leave the apartment and even go to school. Poor ten-year-old Ada is trapped! When families begin sending children from the city to the country to escape the bombing of London, Ada bravely decides that she and Jamie need to go also. Because of her foot, Ada must crawl to the train station! When she meets up with some other kids from the neighborhood, they are amazed to see her. They thought she was “simple”! It’s what her mam told people. “How come she keeps you locked up, if you’re not simple?”

Ada tells him, “It’s because—because of whatever I did, to make my foot like that—” Her mother blamed Ada’s club foot on Ada.

The two children are taken to the country to live with Miss Susan Smith. Miss Smith is a single woman who isn’t sure she knows how to care for children. However, this turns out to be a wonderful adventure for Ada! She teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies!

When I first read this book, I was upset with the mother’s cruel treatment of Ada! I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue reading! I am so glad I did, because this is a wonderful book about learning to trust and becoming a family! It has excitement and suspense! Middle school boys and girls will enjoy it!

Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin

“When someone tells you your little brother might die, you’re quick to agree to anything. You give up after-school activities because no one can take you to practice. You start eating kale chips instead of regular sour cream ‘n’ onion because your mom says kale is rich in antioxidants, which means healthy. You even agree to move across the country, if that’s what it takes. That’s how I ended up in New York City.”

It’s really difficult for Thyme to leave her best friend and her grandmother back home in San Diego, California! New York City isn’t the easiest place to get around. She isn’t used to taking a subway to get to school! And she doesn’t want any of the people at her new school to know about her sick little brother, Val.

Plus, her parents are so concerned about the drug trials for her brother that she feels like no one cares much about her! Slowly Thyme begins to meet some kids her age, and she even begins to care about the grumpy neighbor down the hall from their apartment.

This is Melanie Conklin’s first book, and she did a great job of capturing the struggles of middle school with humor and heart! It’s a good book for boys and girls!

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

“I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid….I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go.”

So begins this fascinating book about a kid with a facial deformity so severe that he says: “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

August Pullman’s deformity has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. He has been homeschooled until 5th grade. Now, his parents think it would be good for him to go to Beecher Prep School. They have talked to the principal and made arrangements for Auggie to meet with Mr. Tushman and some students from the school.

Being a new kid is hard for anyone! Try to imagine how hard it will be for Auggie!

The format of this book is that different characters tell their part of the story. It begins with Auggie and goes on to highlight his sister, and a number of students he meets at the school. Each person adds his or her perspective to the events happening at the time.

My granddaughter, Bethany, and I both thought this was a “wonderful” book! It made you think about how tough it is for some people in this world. Through no fault of anyone’s—Auggis must travel a really difficult road! But, when people made an effort to know the person behind the “face”, they discovered a delightful, smart, good friend! Highly recommend this book for girls and boys!