Prove It, Josh

Dear Reader,

I’m so glad that you want to be a reader. I’m glad that you are asking for good books. But – as you’ve noticed – it’s hard to find stories for middle-schoolers that are well-written, interesting, but not too difficult to read.

What you’re already noticing is that the books that are easy for a middle school student to read tend to fall into one of two groups:

  1. Humorous stories. Silly stories. Lightweight stories about characters who like playing pranks and avoiding work.
  2. Stilted stories. Slightly awkwardly written stories intended for students who find reading difficult. 

You have now heard enough stories in class and read enough stories yourself that you know how good writing should sound. You also are mature enough that you’d rather read more serious stories than The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.  So what should you do?

Two solutions:

  1. Expand your interests. Read stories that are set in places and times that are unfamiliar to you. Read novels about characters who are unlike you. View reading as a chance to discover what it is like to be someone else. 
  2. Read the easy-to-read novels that are especially written for poor readers. Because that is what you are right now. A not-very-skilful reader. You need to build up your strength with easier books so that you can get to the novels you’d prefer to read. If you read for an hour every day, you will be amazed how much stronger you will be in a few months. 

Here’s a novel that will expand your general knowledge and help build up your speed:

Watson, Jenny. Prove It, Josh. Winlaw, BC: Sono Nis Press, 2013.

Josh has moved from Toronto to Vancouver Island to live with his dad aboard a boat. But he hasn’t made any friends and he finds it impossibly difficult to read. His dad makes him see a reading tutor but that isn’t helping his social life. Maybe winning a boat race will show the world that he isn’t worthless.

This 157-page novel has widely-spaced lines of print.The messages are easy to find: everyone has difficulties, so don’t give up when life is hard;  good character is more important than being a good reader or winning a race. The writing is somewhat awkward and there are some technical terms about sailing but just skip over the parts you don’t understand and carry on with the story. You are on your way to becoming a serious reader.

Happy reading!

Ms. R. 

P.S. Find more easy-to-read books HERE!

The Player King

Dear Reader,

You have already enjoyed many stories about characters who set out to search for something. Perhaps you have also read or watched movie versions of these famous quests:  Homer’s Odyssey, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.  Many folktales and fantasy novels focus on a hero’s journey to find someone or something.

Here is another story that tells of a quest. But this one is not a fantasy novel. This novel is based on something that actually happened long ago in England.

Avi. The Player King. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017.

During the 1400s, two families fought to gain control of the English throne. In 1485, Henry proclaimed himself king and defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field. But Richard’s supporters did not want to give up the power they’d enjoyed. So they found a boy, Lambert Simnel, and convinced him to pretend that he was the true heir to the crown. All so they could keep their wealth and prestige. This really happened. This novel is a spell-binding tale that tells how a young penniless orphan might have been convinced that he was someone important, someone who was worthy of becoming the king. 

By the way, even though the topic is quite serious, this 195-page book isn’t difficult to read. The margins are generous. The lines of print are widely spaced. Many sentences and paragraphs are very short. There is also lots of conversation. You will undoubtedly race through this novel to find out what happens!

Ms. R.

P.S. Any story by Avi is well written. Later you might like to read Crispin, another story from the Middle Ages about a boy on a quest to discover his true worth.

More historical novels

Sweep

Dear Reader,

You asked for more stories about mythology. I know you are firmly attached to the Rick Riordan novels. That you would prefer to keep reading them on and on until there are no more left to read, so I’m gratified that you are willing to try some other authors. And I’m impressed that you so quickly read the four novels in Susan Cooper’s ‘The Dark is Rising’ series. Would you be willing to try a different type of mythology?

You’ve already enjoyed Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Norse mythology in the Riordan stories. And you’ve explored the world of King Arthur in Cooper’s stories. Now could you try a novel about a mythological creature from Jewish folklore: a golem, a creature made from inanimate material and brought to life in order to serve as a protector?

Auxier, Jonathan. Sweep: the Story of a Girl and Her Monster. Toronto: Puffin Canada, 2018.

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster is set in 1870s London. Nan Sparrow is a chimney sweep, forced to climb up chimneys and clean out soot. Remember that this is over a hundred years ago, before the age of electricity, and houses have fireplaces. And every fireplace has to be regularly cleaned. Clambering up those narrow chimneys is the job of young children forced into labour due to poverty. The golem in this novel is – of course – a mythological creature. But the setting is real. Life really was as difficult for some children as depicted in this story. So you’ll be learning more about what it felt like to live during Victorian times, as well as enjoying more of your favourite genre right now.

One more thing. Your faith – the Sikh faith – emphasizes that one’s life is to be of service to others. Several times in Sweep, you’ll see this sentence: “We save ourselves by saving others.” I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

By the way, I’ve requested more mythology books for you from the public library. Be watching. You should get a message very soon that they’re ready for pick up. Happy reading!

Ms. R.  

P.S. Always keep your eyes open for books published by Puffin. They tend to be extremely well written. 

Auma’s Long Run

Odhiambo, Eucabeth. Auma’s Long Run. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 2017.
Auma has dreams. She wants to leave her small Kenyan village – where people all around her are dying – and attend high school. Then maybe – someday – she can become a doctor. Auma also has determination. She works hard and she can run. If she earns high grades and wins a track scholarship, maybe her dreams can come true.
But then her father dies of AIDS and her mother becomes ill. Auma is needed at home to support her siblings. What should she do?
This 297-page novel is not difficult to read. The font is relatively large, the lines of print widely spaced, and the margins generous. But the story is not a fairy tale and there is no simplistic happy ending. Recommended for mature readers 11 years old and up. 

More books set in Africa 

More novels about children with adult responsibilities 

 

Speaking Our Truth

Gray Smith, Monique. Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation. Victoria, BC: Orca, 2017.
A Canadian book about reconciliation with chapters focusing on honesty, love, kindness, and reciprocity. Stories of indigenous people, explanations of current political negotiations, and historical information combine to create a highly readable life-affirming book recommended for all ages. Supplemented by a glossary, online and print bibliography, list of residential schools in Canada, and an index. If you can purchase only one book, buy this one! 

More books about indigenous people of North America

 

Some Kind of Courage

Gemeinhart, Dan. Some Kind of Courage. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016.
Joseph is alone in the world. His mother and sister have died of illness. His father has been killed in an accident. And the man who is supposed to take care of him has sold his beloved horse. So Joseph sets out – on his own – to find Sarah and buy her back again.  On the way, he teams up with a Chinese boy who speaks no English and receives help from a tribe of indigenous people. This heart-warming novel – set in 1890 in the state of Washington – will appeal to readers 11 to 15 years old who enjoy past-paced stories of adventure. 

More historical novels

More stories of runaways