This week I review four excellent new middle grade novels in the NYTBR: The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani (who actually lives in my town, though I don’t know her); Checked by Cynthia Kadohata; The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis; and The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley by April Stevens. They are all very different from one another but all great in their own way. I am tempted to explain how, but that would be silly. You can read the reviews here.
In case you’re wondering (and people have asked me), I did read a bunch of other spring releases that I did NOT end up reviewing. The thinking at the NYTBR seems to be that they’d rather use the limited space they have for children’s books on recommendations (as opposed to lukewarm responses or take downs). Makes sense to me.
My eight-year-old daughter has not yet developed into the kind of book lover I had hoped she would turn out to be. She has, I think, pretty solid taste in writing (thumbs up Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary; thumbs down the Rainbow Magic fairy books, thank GOD). But she finds reading effortful, something school and her pushy parents make her do. She’ll happily listen to me reading a book out loud, but she’s not that kid who brings A Secret Garden to a restaurant and quietly reads while her parents have a third glass of wine. Alas…
One series S has taken to, however, is Ivy & Bean, the books by Annie Barrows about the antics of two spunky seven-year-old best friends. The books are pretty terrific: the two girls have real personalities (Bean is a little bit of a Ramona type), and their adventures manage to be both funny and surprising while staying within the bounds of the books’ realistic suburban universe. Also, the illustrations by Sophie Blackall work with the story exactly the way you always wanted illustrated chapter books to be when you were a kid, with characters who look the way you imagine them, and pictures of all the big moments you wanted to see.
This September, when we realized book 9 (Ivy & Bean Make the Rules) was out I bought it for S on the spot. She immediately broke it open and proceeded to read it with hardly a break until she reached the end. This was a first for her.