Five Grand Canyon Award Winners
Since moving to Arizona and finding employment at an elementary school, I have learned a great deal about two things: middle grade/tween chapter books and the Grand Canyon Reader Award. This is an award bestowed upon books that students in Arizona deem their favorite. Our library has displayed several of the 2018-2019 Grand Canyon Reader Award recipients, and I chose five to read and review. These would make great additions to late elementary school/middle school curriculums or gifts for kids in that particular age group.
A Boy Called Bat:
Arnold, Elena K. and Charles Santoso. A Boy Called Bat. Walden Pond Press, 2018.
Bixby Alexander Tam—known by his family and friends as Bat—has difficulty understanding people. Social interactions often leave him puzzled, and he finds himself overwhelmed by loud noises and certain sensations. Bat, however, has no difficulty understanding animals. In fact, he is a walking encyclopedia of animal facts. His mother is a veterinarian, and Bat hopes to one day follow in her footsteps.
After work one evening, Bat’s mom brings home a mysterious animal in a box. It’s a baby skunk, which Bat knows is called a kit. Bat helps care for the kit and grows attached to it, even though he knows they must soon surrender it to a wildlife rescue. Will Bat manage to convince his mom to keep the baby skunk?
This book would be a great choice for students on the autism spectrum and children just beginning to read chapter books.
A Handful of Stars:
Lord, Cynthia. A Handful of Stars. Scholastic, 2017.
Young Lily lives in an area of Maine known for its blueberries and annual Blueberry Festival. By chance, Lily and her blind dog, Lucky, meet Salma, a migrant worker at the blueberry barrens. Salma is different from anyone that Lily has ever known, and the two form a fast friendship.
Lily is plagued with nerves, however, when Salma decides to enter the Blueberry Queen Pageant. Does Salma, a girl who never stays in one place, have any hope of winning the pageant? What will Lily do when Salma returns home to Florida? Will Lily ever save enough money to pay for an operation to restore Lucky’s eyesight?
This small novel tackles big issues in a subtle and age appropriate way: migration, child labor, race, prejudice, etc. It would be an excellent choice for any upper elementary school or middle school student.
Gone Camping: A Novel in Verse
Wissinger, Tamara Will. Gone Camping: A Novel in Verse. Houghton Mifflin Harcout, 2018.
Sam and Lucy are eagerly awaiting an upcoming camping trip with their parents. They count down the days and pack their bags—then, unexpectedly, Dad gets sick and needs to stay home. Gramps steps in to take the two camping, much to their disappointment.
As Sam, Lucy, and Gramps pitch a tent, fish, cook, and swim, their adventures are relayed through a variety of poetic forms including haikus, concrete poems, free verse, and list poems.
Honestly, I think that this book could work for possibly any educator teaching poetry and poetic forms—from elementary to high school.
The Poet’s Dog
Machlachlan, Patricia. The Poet’s Dog. Katherine Tegen Books, 2018.
Flora and Nickel are stuck in a snow storm and desperate for shelter. Luckily, an Irish Wolfhound named Teddy finds them and leads them to the home he once shared with his owner, a poet named Sylvan.
Teddy, who can talk to children and poets, narrates the story. He flashes between his moments with the two children and the life he once had with Sylvan. Now that Sylvan has died, Teddy wonders what will become of him. Will he find a new home? Will Flora and Nickel stay safe and fed? Will the snow storm ever let up?
This short, poignant book will tug at the reader’s heartstrings. The hopeful ending will appeal to readers of all ages.
Gertie’s Leap to Greatness
Beasley, Kate. Gertie’s Leap to Greatness. Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2018.
Gertie is on a mission to be the best fifth grader ever. She’s not merely driven by pride—she wants to impress her mother, Rachel, who abandoned Gertie when she was just a baby. She has grand plans, but the appearance of a new student, Mary Sue Spivey, who is both beautiful and semi-famous, threatens to foil Gertie’s plans.
Gertie tries various strategies to propel herself into greatness. She wants to be the best public speaker, the best student, and the best actress. Will Gertie become great? Will she beat the conceited Mary Sue? Will she earn her mother’s attention and love?
This is one of the best books I’ve read in some time, which was a surprise as I normally don’t read books aimed at this particular age group. Gertie reminded me of one of my favorite protagonists—Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. Her determination and flair for the dramatic will make the reader smile and laugh out loud. I highly recommend this book.