Dear Mr. Henshaw* by Beverly Cleary
A sixth grade writing assignment connects Leigh Botts with his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw. In his letters to Mr. Henshaw, Leigh opens up about his parents’ divorce, his feelings toward his father, and the struggles he has at his new school. Mr. Henshaw suggests Leigh keep a diary. Leigh takes him up on it and begins every entry with Dear Mr. Henshaw.
Beverly Cleary adeptly addresses issues young people face with respect and validation. Leigh’s life doesn’t have a fairy-tale ending, but rather a realistic one in which a young man learns to accept life’s challenges with courage and hope.
I highly recommend Dear Mr. Henshaw for elementary and middle school readers. The emotional elements of the story may impact some students significantly, so I suggest a parent or teacher give opportunity for reflection. Many classrooms have used this book to introduce journaling to their students.
Dear Mr. Henshaw received a Newberry Medal in 1984.
Cleary, Beverly. Dear Mr. Henshaw. HarperCollins, 2000.
The Mona Lisa Mirror Mystery by Latayne C. Scott
The Mona Lisa Mirror Mystery by Latayne C. Scott is a novella which takes the reader back and forth between the present-day world and Renaissance Italy.
A strange sensation overcomes sixteen-year-old, Addy Serna, while she’s looking into the eyes of the Mona Lisa print hanging on her bedroom wall. WHOOSH! Suddenly, she finds herself in the presence of Lisa Giocondo – Mona Lisa herself. There’s drama and danger in both worlds, but Addy finds a way to overcome.
I enjoyed the first-person narrative, it drew me into the story directly. Teenage girls will certainly identify with Addy Serna. She is intelligent, well-read, compassionate, and brave. I especially appreciated her Christian character.
The storytelling is a bit slow at first and it does feel as though a sixteen-year-old is writing the book. It starts as a light adventure, but Addy finds herself dealing with more mature issues. (Cautionary Note: a friend has been abused by a relative.)
Scott, Latayne Colvett. The Mona Lisa Mirror Mystery. Cruciform Press, 2018.
A Wrinkle in Time* by Madeleine L’Engle
Father is missing and Meg’s mother is lost in her lab work. Meg and her brother, Charles Wallace, have been making the best of the situation despite the teasing at school. Rather than believing her father chose to leave them, Meg’s convinced something happened to him.
When Mrs. Whatsit is blown into home one a stormy night, she talks sandwiches, sheets and tesseracts – the secret project of Father’s. It isn’t long before Meg and Charles Wallace and Calvin O’Keefe, a friend from school, find themselves on a rescue mission which threatens the universe.
Madeleine L’Engle is a wonderful storyteller and her imagination has gripped readers of all ages for decades. This story is just the beginning of a series of science fiction. Many Waters is fourth in the series and is reviewed on Book Blurbs.
A Wrinkle in Time was awarded the Newberry Medal in 1963.
L’Engle, Madeleine, et al. A Wrinkle in Time. Puffin, 2018.
Looking for Alaska by John Green reminded me of reading The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger in high school. Not surprising, these books both deal with the top three themes for Young Adult literature – Love, Coming of Age, and Death.
Looking for Alaska is well written and deals with death and dying in a fresh way. Nevertheless, the moral tone and worldview are not Christian – sex, profanity, disrespect for authority are prevalent. But this is the world our children are exposed to, and books are effective tools for discussing these topics with our teenage children.
I do like school stories and this is one. Green gives a fairly accurate picture of how many young people behave once they are free from the oversight of their parents. Their choices, and the consequences of those choices, help to define their perspective on the world and where they fit into it.
I read Looking for Alaska because it has received awards and acclaim, but I don’t feel comfortable recommending it to parents of young people. Death and Dying is dealt with thematically in The Book Thief by Markus Zusak in a historical setting and I prefer it for junior and high school students.
(Spoiler) Looking for Alaska speaks specifically to the issue of suicide.
Green, John. Looking for Alaska. Dutton Children’s Books, 2018.
Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company, 2018.
Zusak, Markus, and Trudy White. The Book Thief. Knopf, 2013.
Claire. “10 Most Popular Literary Theme Examples • Writer’s Edit.” Writer’s Edit, Writer’s Edit, 2 July 2018, writersedit.com/fiction-writing/10-most-popular-literary-theme-examples/.
The Illuminae Files_01 by Annie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, is written in the style of a report from varied sources. This creative approach was a bit distracting at first, but as soon as I got caught up in the drama I was turning pages too fast to notice.
Kady and Ezra flee for their lives when BeiTech destroys their planet. On separate spaceships they find a way to keep in communication. But a deadly virus which causes victims to go on insane killing sprees, a computer AI gone rogue, and a battle cruiser coming to vaporize the surviving witnesses keep the reader guessing.
Can a couple of 18 year olds make a difference in 2575? The answer is still yes. This story had a 2001 Space Odyssey feel. There was a great deal of gruesome violence which could be upsetting, but the storyline was intriguing and kept me riveted.
This series is definitely for older readers (16 years and above). It provides opportunity to discuss what merits personal sacrifice, the current trend of violence in YA literature, the value of trust, and truth.
KAUFMAN, AMIE; KRISTOFF JAY. ILLUMINAE: the Illuminae files_01. ALLEN & UNWIN, 2015.
The Sword by Bryan Litfin.
The Sword, The Gift and The Kingdom, make up Bryan Litfin’s Chiveis Trilogy. Litfin’s series takes place in the future. Survivors of nuclear war and a deadly virus, live primitively with a myriad of religious deities. Automobiles and modern methods of war have been replaced by horses and swords. Christianity and the Bible are lost or hidden…until now. In The Sword, the first of the series, Teo and Ana are driven together by circumstance and discover scriptures revealing the One, True, God.
I enjoyed the first of the three books best. The cycle of persecution, near-death experience, and miraculous restoration was intriguing at first, but became predictable in the second and third books. Nevertheless, the series is fun and would entertain young adult readers.
I appreciated most the way Litfin slowly unveils the character of God – first from the Old Testament scriptures and then in the person of Jesus Christ. These books could be a wonderful tool for parents to discuss the person and character of God with their children.
Litfin, Bryan M. The Sword: a Novel. Crossway, 2012.
Inside Out & Back Again* by Thanhha Lai
Inside Out & Back Again sweeps readers away with ten-year-old Ha as she flees Saigon at the time of the Vietnam War (1975). Written in verse, Thanhha Lai creatively shares the emotions and fears of leaving one’s home and country and embarking on a new life in a foreign land. I cried with Ha as she left her beloved papaya tree and gave up hope of her father’s return from the war in the north. I laughed as she struggled learning English with it’s various spelling rules.
Inside Out & Back Again is a wonderful book I highly recommend for children eight years and older. Whether you’re adjusting to a new culture or extending compassion to a stranger, Thanhha Lai shows us how it’s done.
Young Adult Historical Fiction at 260 pages.Lai, Thanhha.
Inside out & Back Again. Harper, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2017.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon* by Kelly Barnhill
Along the lines of Hunger Games, the Protectorate sacrifices a baby each year to the forest witch in order to preserve their safety. But the Protectorate is led by a which who is fed and strengthened by the sorrow of others.
Xan, the so-called forest witch, saves these abandoned children each year and takes them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest. But one year, Xan mistakenly feeds the sacrificial baby moonlight which gives the child powerful magic. Xan takes responsibility for her mistake by raising little Luna as her own granddaughter.
Luna’s unstable magic, Xan’s secrets, the Sorrow-eater’s insatiable appetite, and a young father’s determination to save his baby in an unforgettable climax.
This epic coming of age story involves magic, dragons, bog monsters, and an evil sorceress which make it a fast-paced read for any young adult. Apart from the good witch/bad witch scenario, I enjoyed The Girl Who Drank the Moon.
Newberry Medal winner, just over 300 pages.
Barnhill, Kelly. The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Piccadilly Press, 2017.