Annie Winters is probably the last girl you’d expect to see training for a marathon (she hates running, for one thing), but she has her reasons.
Reason one: She’s running away from her past.
Reason two: Her past includes her beloved boyfriend Kyle dying before he could achieve his dream of completing a marathon.
Reason three: She might be the reason he’s dead.
With high school coming to a close and a new start at college on the horizon, Annie is just trying to get by. School, work, run. School, work, run. Breathe, Annie, breathe. That’s her plan, and she’s sticking to it until a very cute and very determined distraction named Jeremiah enters her life. He’s her running coach’s reckless adrenaline-junkie little brother, and she can’t get him to leave her alone. Soon, of course, she finds that she might not really want him to leave her alone.
As Annie begins her freshman year, she has a lot of decisions to make. Is she ready to start dating again so soon after losing Kyle? Can she forgive herself for what happened to him? Will she be able to push herself hard enough to finish the marathon in his honor?
Miranda Kenneally is a master of realistic sports fiction, and this might be her best book yet. Mature readers will cheer as Annie runs a little bit further every chapter, and they’ll swoon over her budding romance with Jeremiah. Fans of her other works in the Hundred Oaks series will enjoy seeing some familiar characters pop up throughout and will no doubt look forward to the next installment.
The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, is a Newbery Award winning book told from the point of view of a gorilla living in captivity. Ivan and his friends Stella the elephant and Bob the dog spend their days in a shopping mall, which isn’t too stimulating an environment for them. With the help of some friends, artwork, and a baby elephant named Ruby, Ivan might be able to change his circumstances for the better.
Here is how a group of tweens and I explored the text at our summer book club.
Activity: Finger Painting
Ivan is a budding artist, and fingerpainting and crayons are his mediums of choice. We rolled out some big sheets of paper and worked on fingerpainting murals together inspired by nature.
Videos: Animal Artists and the Real Ivan
I had a projector at my disposal, so I had fun curating some YouTube videos to watch that showed different kinds of animals expressing themselves with artwork and a video of the real Ivan, the gorilla who inspired the book:
At 25 cents a pop, banana cream pie pudding cups from Snack Pack fit the bill perfectly and the kids loved them.
Activity: Animal Habitats
Ivan and his friends don’t live in a very good environment at the beginning of the book, so my buddies and I decided that we could do better. Using recycled materials, we worked on making dioramas that reflected what we thought were good habitats for different animals.
During all the crafting and eating, we talked about the book, which really lends itself well to discussions about animal rights, artwork, the environment, and friendship. Highly recommended for upper elementary schoolers and middle schoolers.
Recently, I read two great fiction titles that had a lot in common: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan, and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Levin.
Both books are fairly new releases, both are adult fiction titles that I also think would appeal to the YA set, both feature eccentric booksellers as main characters, and both are utterly enjoyable.
Mr. Penumbra follows Clay, a computer geek who begins working as a clerk at the titular Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Clay’s tenure as the night-shift clerk soon takes a wild and unexpected turn as he uncovers codes, a secret society, and a mystery that has gone unsolved for generations. Soon, he, his odd boss, and a pack of loyal friends are on a quest that just might uncover the secret to immortality itself. The story is fast-paced and fun, and it exudes an equal appreciation of the analog and the digital. Oh yeah, and the book itself glows in the dark, a fact that startled me the first time I turned off my bedside table light and which completely delights me.
A.J. Fikry is a more realistic piece of fiction that focuses on A.J. Fikry, recently widowed curmudgeon and bookstore owner whose whole life is thrown upside down when a baby is abandoned in his store one evening. The little girl who will soon become his adopted daughter, Maya, ignites a social life that Fikry never before had or wanted, but which he very much needed. Soon, his circle has expanded to include new friends, book clubs, and a love interest from a publishing company, and his outlook on life is transformed. The story is warm and cozy; a love letter to books and their peddlers, to small towns, to friends and family, to short stories (which Fikry loves above all other forms of literature).
Over all, I can’t say that I prefer one of these titles over the other—they’re similar enough in their elements that I thought they went really well together and different enough that they are unique and stand alone. Reading them back to back was an utterly enjoyable experience, especially for a bibliovore like me.
Who else has read these titles? Did you have a favorite?
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher is a heartwarming tale of family and transition, and the author gives due attention to each family member’s feelings as they make their way through the year together. The Fletchers are a fabulous family made up of two dads, four sons, and a pack of pets:
• Sporty sixth grader Sam, who is thinking about risking his hard-won popularity to try out for a part in the school play • Fourth grader Eli, who is heading off to a new school for academically gifted students • Fourth grader Jax, who has to deal with the fact that his brother won’t be in his class anymore and who is having trouble getting along with his friends and next-door neighbor • Kindergartner Jeremiah (aka Frog), who is having trouble letting go of his imaginary friends • Zeus the cat, who likes to escape from the window and into the grouchy neighbor’s yard • Sir Puggleton the pug, who mostly just wants to sleep • Papa and Dad, who keep the family afloat
Each character is given due diligence by the author and readers can’t help but root for all of them as they struggle together and separately through a school year filled with changes. Chapters are told alternatively from the perspective of each of the four boys, and the writing style is very warm and friendly.
The Fletchers will likely remind readers and their parents of other classic book families like the Quimbys and the Krupniks, and the added element of same sex parents and adopted children is handled gracefully. Frankly, it is refreshing to read a novel that has diversity and reflects our ever-changing society. There isn’t enough of that on the bookshelves these days, and The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher will be a great addition.
The Reading Rainbow Kickstarter drive just ended yesterday, and it was able to raise $6,408,916! That money will help fund Reading Rainbow on the internet, mobile devices, and streaming players, and, best of all, provide free subscriptions to the app for over 7500 classrooms who really need it.
This is so, so amazing, and I’m glad to have been part of the movement to bring back such an influential show.