*Book titles link to Goodreads
» Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.
Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.
Echo was a beautiful middle grade book that blended fairytale, history, and music together into a very unique read. I did not realize when I started this book that it was going to start off as a fairytale, but eventually turn into a WWII historical fiction. Through Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy’s stories, we experience different challenges that people faced during WWII: Nazi Germany under Hitler’s regime (specifically the preservation of “traditional German values” and “purifying” the German population), segregation of the races in the U.S., Japanese Interment Camps in the U.S…. There are many different historical aspects of WWII history portrayed in Echo. I thought the way the author took multiple story lines and wove them together was very clever. I also liked how each story ends on a cliffhanger, but you don’t really find out how they all end until the end of the book.
I cannot stress enough that if you are able, audiobook is definitely the way to go with this one. Not only is each section of this book narrated by a new narrator, but the music is also played out. I would recommend this one to any music lovers, and especially any of you that are musicians yourselves. I think the author really captured the essence of the love that musicians have for creating music.
Despite my love for this book, I wonder how much it would appeal to a middle grade audience… I probably would only recommend this one to older MG readers who enjoy historical fiction and/or music.
» The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall
It was a bitterly cold day when Arthur T. Owens grabbed a brick and hurled it at the trash picker. Arthur had his reasons, and the brick hit the Junk Man in the arm, not the head. But none of that matters to the judge—he is ready to send Arthur to juvie for the foreseeable future. Amazingly, it’s the Junk Man himself who offers an alternative: 120 hours of community service . . . working for him.
Arthur is given a rickety shopping cart and a list of the Seven Most Important Things: glass bottles, foil, cardboard, pieces of wood, lightbulbs, coffee cans, and mirrors. He can’t believe it—is he really supposed to rummage through people’s trash? But it isn’t long before Arthur realizes there’s more to the Junk Man than meets the eye, and the “trash” he’s collecting is being transformed into something more precious than anyone could imagine. . . .
Inspired by the work of American folk artist James Hampton.
*Part of my Ohioana Book Fest TBR
I really adored this book. At the core, The Seventh Most Important Thing is about judging others based off appearances alone, and how there is generally more to people than meets the eye. This book is also a story of loss, grief, guilt, and friendship. I had no idea this book is based off of true events, though I won’t share which parts because it is better going in not knowing until the end like I did. *Highlight to see spoiler ⇒ This novel gives a fictionalized back story to the famous piece of art, The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly by James Hampton. I had never heard about this piece of art before, but I really enjoyed how the author spun this tale around it. ⇐ I think this would be a wonderful book to use in a classroom setting.
My only issue with this book would be the fact that it was set in the 1960’s, but I didn’t feel like I was in the 60’s while reading it. There were a few references of the past: a record player, pay phones, going to the library to use the encyclopedia, but when I read “historical fiction” I want to feel like I’m in that time. I wish the author would have spend a little more time “setting the scene.” Other than that, this was a very unique and delightful read.
» Every Single Second by Tricia Springstubb
From acclaimed author Tricia Springstubb comes an incredibly powerful and timely novel about how a single act impacts a community, a city, and the way a young girl views the world around her.
A single second. That’s all it takes to turn a world upside down.
Twelve-year-old Nella Sabatini’s life is changing too soon, too fast. Her best friend, Clem, doesn’t seem concerned; she’s busy figuring out the best way to spend the “leap second”—an extra second about to be added to the world’s official clock. The only person who might understand how Nella feels is Angela, but the two of them have gone from being “secret sisters” to not talking at all.
Then Angela’s idolized big brother makes a terrible, fatal mistake, one that tears apart their tight-knit community and plunges his family into a whirlwind of harsh publicity and judgment. In the midst of this controversy, Nella is faced with a series of startling revelations about her parents, friends, and neighborhood. As Angela’s situation becomes dangerous, Nella must choose whether to stand by or stand up. Her heart tries to tell her what to do, but can you always trust your heart? The clock ticks down, and in that extra second, past and present merge—the future will be up to her.
Tricia Springstubb’s extraordinary novel is about the shifting bonds of friendship and the unconditional love of family, the impact of class and racial divides on a neighborhood and a city, and a girl awakening to awareness of a world bigger and more complex than she’d ever imagined.
*Part of my Ohioana Book Fest TBR
I’m really conflicted over this one. On one hand, there were many great aspects about this book, but on the other I think the author may have been a little too ambitious with all the “heavy topics” that she included in one book. This book includes topics like *highlight to see text ⇒ PTSD, drunk driving, a white man shooting a black man, racism, autism, the media frenzy, etc. etc ⇐ ((What I’ve hidden isn’t necessarily a spoiler, but I did want to hide it from those who like to go into a book not knowing much about the plot)) With all these “heavy topics” plus the alternating timeline, this book felt very busy to me. I also struggled at first with the author’s writing style, but it did get easier over the course of the book. Most of all, I struggled with how the author handled the race relations within the book. It isn’t necessarily problematic, but I don’t necessarily think it was handled correctly either. In my opinion, it was very risky attempting a book that has this particular scenario *highlight to see spoiler ⇒ a white security guard shooting and killing an unarmed black man. The author gives both sides of the story, to show that it isn’t always so cut and dry. While I understand what the author was trying to do here, it rubbed me the wrong way. I can’t exactly explain it. Even though this was a race relations issue, racism was never fully addressed or acknowledged in the book? ⇐ I think if the author had left out the race relations, and focused on the other topics, then I would have enjoyed this book a lot more. Don’t get me wrong, this book had some good things going for it: themes like friendship, family, and community. I also really liked the portrayal of growing up in a catholic school, as it brought me lots of nostalgia.
» Pillage by Obert Sky
Upon his mother’s death, fifteen-year-old Beck Phillips is sent to live with an eccentric uncle he had never met in a remote manor house, where he learns that his family suffers from a curse that allows him to make plants grow on command and dragon eggs hatch.
*Part of my SOKY Book Fest TBR
This one was not my cup of tea. I had a hard time connecting to the author’s writing style… it felt a little too basic, even for a middle grade read. The storyline and characters were cheesy and cliché if I’m being honest. I contemplated DNFing it a few different times, but ultimately decided to stick with it to see if things picked up… They didn’t.
» Pax by Sara Pennypacker
Pax was only a kit when his family was killed, and “his boy” Peter rescued him from abandonment and certain death. Now the war front approaches, and when Peter’s father enlists, Peter has to move in with his grandpa. Far worse than being forced to leave home is the fact that Pax can’t go. Peter listens to his stern father—as he usually does—and throws Pax’s favorite toy soldier into the woods. When the fox runs to retrieve it, Peter and his dad get back in the car and leave him there—alone. But before Peter makes it through even one night under his grandfather’s roof, regret and duty spur him to action; he packs for a trek to get his best friend back and sneaks into the night. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their independent struggles to return to one another against all odds. Told from the alternating viewpoints of Peter and Pax.
I knew after seeing the cover for this one last year that I was going to read it eventually. Kuddos to Klassen for this stunning cover design! I read this book via audiobook, so I can’t comment on the illustrations throughout, but since Jon Klassen is the illustrator, I think it is a safe bet that they are well done.
This book is told in dual perspectives of a boy named Peter and his pet fox, Pax. I really like how Pennypacker told part of the story from Pax’s perspective, and felt she did a really good job putting us inside the head of a fox. I would venture to say it was one of the most realistic feeling animal perspectives that I’ve encountered. It is very clear to me that Pennypacker did a lot of research on foxes for this book, which I always appreciate.
Pax takes on some very heavy topics like death, war, and sacrifice, which are woven together with themes like love, forgiveness, friendship. I enjoyed the journey that both Peter and Pax go on as well as the growth of these characters throughout the book. I will warn you that I’ve read a few reviews where people were disappointed with the ending, but I personally thought it was the perfect way to end this story.
My only issue with this book would be that I didn’t feel things were wrapped up with Vola & Peter’s Dad. Vola’s portion of the book felt a little disjointed because it ended so abruptly. Vola plays a huge part in Peter’s growth in the book (and vice versa) but I didn’t feel enough closure with this part of the plot. I had similar feelings with the relationship between Peter & his father. Nothing was exactly resolved there either. I think the author could have easily resolved these issues with an epilogue.
Overall this was a beautiful story about a boy & the love for his pet fox. This book had a few similarities with the movie Fox and the Hound , which I absolutely loved as a kid, so if you loved that movie I think you’d enjoy this book. Also, if you enjoyed books like Charlotte’s Web, Where the Red Fern Grows, and Shiloh, then I would recommend this book to you.
Have you read any of these middle grade books? If so, what did you think?
Comment below and let me know 🙂