It’s Monday! What are you reading? middle grade fiction

This week I picked up speed and read three middle grade fiction books – one fantasy, one realistic fiction and one just fiction with a bit of magic, maybe.

bk_graylingssong_120pxI began with Grayling’s Song, a soon to be released book by Karen Cushman. (June 2016) This little book feels like the start to a new series – a good series if you like the middle ages. Grayling is a coming of age book set back in the time of “wise woman” – a sort of witch. Grayling’s mother is a woman who understand herbs, plants, songs and how nature can heal. She is was busy preparing her herbs for winter when an evil wind blows through burning their home and literally rooting Graylings mother to the ground. She is becoming a tree. It is up to Grayling to seek help and puzzle out what this evil force is – who or what is stealing the books of magic and herbal lore?

Cushman does a great job of building her setting and characters. You know the fear and how hesitantly Grayling feels about leaving her home. It is easy to understand she is not ready to go out into the world alone but alone she must go.

This book has lots of information about plants and herbs tucked in along the side of her journey but there is adventure, bullying, magic, evil (both magic and just plan mean people) but there is also friendship, help and growing up along the way. It was fun to return to reading Karen Cushman’s books.

Second read of the week was The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart.imgres This came out a year ago and I just didn’t get to reading it. It is a powerful book about being honest in the face of illness. There is a 12 year old boy named Mark – one normal boy who finds himself in a not normal life of childhood cancer. After seven years of fighting, winning and then watching it start over again he decided this is enough and he runs away from home to complete what he feels is his last wish – to climb a mountain. He is sick, it is cold, a winter storm is approaching and he is 12 with a long ways to go. His best friend Jess – realizes where he has gone – does she tell or hold her promise to let him do this one last thing?

Gemeinhart write with quick short chapters, action and emotion. You know where this story is going but you are cheering for him all along the way. This would be a good story for students to discuss childhood illness, friendship promises and family. What would you do it you knew where he was going? Would you stop him?

Over the weekend I read another quirky book – Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones. Kelly is another new writer like Gemeinhart.

imgres-1Ok, I will admit I didn’t want to read it. Nothing about this book seemed to interest me but it is on my list for my next children’s book group. So I sat down to read it this weekend. I still can’t remember the title so I keep calling it the Chicken book but …


  • it was cute
  • funny
  • lots of information about chickens
  • a bit of magic – these are unusual chickens remember
  • and could be book one of a series about young Sophie Brown

Sophie and her family have inherited Great Uncle Jim’s farm. Since dad has lost his job and mom is working as a writer this looks like a great place to start again. The farm is a mess, the family knows little about farming or chickens and Sophie is ready to explore. It is a story ripe for adventures and odd little happenings.

This story is told all through letters that Sophie is writing to the Redwood Farm Supply house for chicken advise and her Abuelita (Grandmother) who has died. Sophie slowly learns about these unusual chickens from letters back from the supply house, the mailman, the librarian and a young boy down the road. These friendships come as Sophie begins to fight to hold on to her inherited chickens.

There is a chicken thief in town and it is not someone the town would expect.  Are they going to stand with the well know Chicken expert in town or the new “brown” girl who just moved in?  Yes, this book is mainly about chickens but Jones has quietly woven the issues of race into the story by who her characters are and how some of the town’s people relate to Sophie.

A cute story that would be fun for kids to read or share as a read aloud. I was wishing I had this to read to my classes the years that we raised chicks in the classroom. It would have been great fun.

It also would be great to talk about the use of writing letters. I am thinking we need a genre of books written all by letters. Should be start a list?

  • Dear Mr. Henshaw
  • Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Chicken Farmer
  • The Gardener
  • The Quiet Place


About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, care for my Grandson and write. Life is good!
This entry was posted in Book Review, genres in writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to It’s Monday! What are you reading? middle grade fiction

  1. Linda Baie says:

    Love hearing about your “letter” books. For the young there is an older book called The Jolly Postman, very cute, with actual letters tucked in different spaces. I bet you know it. I love Dear Mr. Henshaw! Still need to get to The Honest Truth-maybe someday! Thanks Joanne, I think we like to read many of the same things.

    • Joanne Toft says:

      Yes, I know The Jolly Postman – used it in my classroom. Such a cute idea. I would love to know what you think of The Honest Truth – it got some ok reviews but I think it would be great in a classroom.

  2. It’s amazing how the “kids with terminal diseases” genre is still going strong in juvenile fiction – when I was a tween it was all about Lurlene McDaniels (“Don’t Die My Love”) and countless novels about dying young people. I think the books (like the readers) are much more sophisticated than they were in my youth!

    • Joanne Toft says:

      I agree – the genre has changed. It would be interesting to read from a variety of years to note the differences but for me they are always a hard read. Cancer is a hard topic for me.

  3. Myra GB says:

    The Honest Truth was a struggle for me to read – I simply can not sympathize with the main character who put his dog in danger.

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