I have returned to reading middle great fiction. I love reading books at this level. I think because it is where I did most of my teaching and know this age of children so well. I also love the leap of writing that authors can take.
The language is still mid range, the plot not to overly complicated but the concepts and ideas take a step into deeper thinking. It is a time when kids really are beginning to understand the world around them and are looking for more information. They are seeking to understand and explore the issue and problems they see around them in the news. This is where you can find books that take on more conflict. The story line can become more complex and not everything needs to be answered in black and white with happy endings.
The story of Saving Wonder by Mary Knight fits this perfectly. She gives us the emotional life of a young boy living in the Appalachian Mountains of Wonder Gap, Kentucky. A boy who has lost all but his Grandfather because of the coal mining business. Curly and Grandpa are making their way together but Grandpa’s health is not good and changes in the mining company may take away all that is important to Curly.
Knight is able to walk the thin line between the coal industry and the environmentalists who are hoping to save the mountain from being mined, mountain top removal. She builds strong characters that you care about and real issues that are important to us today. She sets up a great read for students but a wonderful book to teach from.
This book not only provides you with topics for kids to research, issues to debate – coal vs environment, but also the personal issue of a friendship turning into a girlfriend and what happens when a new kid steps into that relationship. Grandpa and Curley also have a vocabulary game going throughout the story that provides a great teaching tool as well.
As a teacher, I can see all the teachable moments but they don’t side track the story line. It is still a book to be read with interest and wonder. It would be a perfect read aloud as you begin a unit on social issues or researching. This is a book that brings facts into a fictional story to help us understand that the struggle between coal and the environment has many points of view. She brings forth the lives of those who are are involved on each side making it a story to be thought about deeply.
This is Mary Knights debut novel. I look forward to see what comes next.