If you’re looking for great middle grade books to give as gifts to girls and boys between the ages of 8-12, I have two recommendations. Likewise, if you know a middle grade English-Language Arts teacher, they might appreciate one, too. Both books take a unique look at courage. NetGalley and the publishers provided advanced copies of the books to me. Opinions belong to me (and I only promote books I really love).
Louisiana’s Way Home
by Kate DiCamillo, Candlewick Press, 240 pages, 2018.
It takes courage to figure out your identity, especially when your family history feels like a patchwork quilt with squares missing.
Louisiana Elefante lives under a curse of sundering. She knows this because her Granny has told the story of how her great-grandfather, a magician, cuts her great-grandmother in half and then leaves before putting her back together again.
Living under a curse proves burdensome for a young girl—especially when it means leaving home in the middle of the night. The curse proves tragical when Louisiana discovers that her grandmother has no intention of turning back.
Louisiana Elefante writes down her story so that those who wonder what happened to her will know the truth. The reader will enter into the mind of a young girl orphaned when her trapeze artist parents die in a tragic accident (or did they?).
Layer by layer, Louisiana peels back the truth about herself, the curse, and how families can graft members into the trunk of their existence.
Louisiana’s lyrical voice draws the reader in, insisting on truth and begging for answers in a world that’s gone awry. Along the way, a mysterious boy with a pet crow helps her navigate the changes in her life.
This story would make a great read-aloud for younger children (7-10), or a read-alone for slightly older kids. If you’re bothered by the idea of a curse, know that the book really isn’t about curses or the occult—which Louisiana comes to understand by the end of the book.
If you’re a teacher looking for middle grade books for your class with tons of discussion possibilities, this one fits the bill—especially if you have students with low reading levels that enjoy deep discussions. Louisiana and her grandmother commit petty larceny in order to survive. The grandmother does a lot of things in the name of love that one might consider illegal.Award-winning author Kate DiCamillo crafts another tale of courage for middle-grade students. #bookreviews #LouisianasWayHome #amreading Click To Tweet
Bright Shining Moment
by Deb Loughhead, Second Story Press, 178 pages, 2018.
We are called on to exhibit courage when we make sacrifices for our families and learn to befriend people who aren’t just like us.
Aline’s family is so poor that she can’t even bring used chewing gum to school for the Sisters to use to hang posters on the classroom walls. The Great Depression hasn’t just hit the United States, it haunts Canada, too.
Readers follow Aline as she navigates friendships, family dynamics, and what it means to be poor. Told in the first person, the narrator struggles to understand that the world doesn’t follow strict black and white patterns. As she recounts the events leading up to her bright shining moment, she begins to understand how a small shift in perspective can allow more light into her world.
Parents and teachers might want to read this whimsical and thought-provoking story out loud to their 8-10 year olds to help them navigate and discuss the French-Canadian vocabulary and customs. Parents and teachers can also provide some historical context for the Great Depression and help kids research answers to questions that might arise. Older students will be able to find more information on the Internet on their own.
While not a Christmas story, per se, the setting and time period lend themselves well to those seeking a ‘Gift of the Magi’ type theme for their middle-grade students during the holiday season.
Older Classics About Courage
Other middle grade books about courage that I love (and love reading out loud to students) include:
- Maniac Magee by Jerri Spinelli
- The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi (my male students always think this one will be a sappy girl story, but they can’t wait to finish it).
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Alexi Sherman (beware, this book is for older middle-grade students. Read it first if you’re not sure).
- Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman
- The Orphan’s Wish by Melanie Dickerson
What titles would you add to the list?