If you’re a teacher, librarian, or school counselor looking for ways to help kids who’ve experienced trauma, you’ll want a copy of this middle-grade novel on your bookshelf. Find out why.
I receive free electronic advanced reader copies of these books through an arrangement between the publishers and NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion on NetGalley’s website. I only review books on my blog that I really love.
The Perfect Middle-Grade Novel for Post-Pandemic Kids
Whether you have kids of your own or work with kids as a teacher, librarian, or counselor, this has been a rough year. A teacher friend told me about a family from her school who celebrated Thanksgiving Dinner with their extended family. And within a month all four grandparents had passed away from COVID-19. Traumatic. Heartbreaking, Guilt-inducing.
Kids have survived a traumatic year and a half. We could all use a little help understanding how trauma, whether big or small, weighs us down. This middle-grade novel provides the perfect catharsis for dealing with deep emotions. It also gives readers insight into how to work through guilt, trauma, and regret with the help of others.
I’ll use Missing Okalee in my classroom as a springboard for discussing emotional intelligence. We’ll also discuss the importance of treating yourself and others with kindness. My Native American students (90% of my classroom) will love the inclusion of a Native American poet in the book. Many of them will also relate to the main character’s Latinx heritage, which mirrors their own. Although a high percentage of our students receive counseling services, they will appreciate a heroine who chooses to visit the school counselor.
By Laura Ojeda Melchor, Shadow Mountain, September 7, 2021, 256 pages, 8-13-year-olds.
Phoebe Paz Petersen might not have the bubbly personality of her little sister, Okalee, but she harbors a talent most people don’t know about. She doesn’t gravitate towards math or science or homework, but she does have a powerful voice. Phoebe’s best friend, Helena, and Okalee give her confidence to audition for the school’s annual spring concert. Phoebe knows if she wins the audition, she’ll gain the respect and notice of her small Montana community—and her parents.
Phoebe feels all the responsibilities of big sisterhood and struggles at times to follow their parents’ request to take care of her little sister. Okalee wants to spread her own wings and doesn’t take kindly to Phoebe’s cautious, older sisterly ways. Like sisters everywhere, Phoebe and Okalee share a secret not even their parents know about—River Day.
But this year, their River Day goes horribly wrong. What happens will forever change the lives of the Petersen family and will ripple out to change other lives in the close-knit community. The trauma of the day takes away the one thing Phoebe felt made her special—her singing voice.
As Phoebe struggles to regain her voice, her vocal rival starts a cruel rumor. A mysterious witness to River Day leaves notes demanding the truth about what really happened on the fateful day. Phoebe feels desperate to sign and honor Okalee, but the cauldron of emotions conspires to keep her silent.
Why I Loved This Middle-Grade Fiction Title
Phoebe, acting as the story’s narrator, transports readers to the heart of her multicultural family with her beautiful, lyrical words and descriptions. As Phoebe and her family process the events of the day, readers learn how everyone reacts differently to grief.
When a tragedy happens at a school, or within a school community, newspapers always proclaim, “counselors are standing by to help the children process the event.” I’ve always wondered what the phrase means.
As an educator, I understand the importance of allowing children and young adults to ‘try on’ life experiences vicariously through fiction. Missing Okalee gives readers insight into what trauma counseling might look like for the individuals most closely associated with a tragedy. Students (as well as parents and teachers) need the valuable insights the book offers to understand how they, too, could find help if something tragic happens in their family.
Crushing guilt clouds Phoebe’s journey with grief. She struggles to deal with small-town rumors, the consequences of telling the whole truth, and the complicated relationships between family members.
Missing Okalee has a Jacob Have I Loved meets Bridge to Terabithia vibe with a fresh, own voices feel. Book lovers from 8-108, teachers, and librarians, will want to snag a copy of the book. And a box of tissue. I won’t lie. You’ll need tissue.The perfect post-COVID book for middle-grade readers (and teachres, librarians, and parents) from @lauraomelchor and @ShadowMountn. #amreading #MiddleGradeFiction #kidlit #teacher #librarian #netgalley Click To Tweet
You’ll find me listed in the author’s credits at the back of the book. I sat next to Georgeline Morsette, the Chippewa-Cree poet, back before she knew how to write her name (we attended the same church). I’d smile as Georgeline wiggled because I could remember the days before my daughter, Laura, could sit still during church. Learning to read took care of that problem.