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Songs, Scouts, and Essays: New Books for Older Readers

thing-about-luckThe Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
Newbery Award winner (Kira-Kira) Kadohata has created another sweet and gentle story about Japanese Americans living in unusual situations. Twelve-year-old Summer is convinced that her family has nothing but bad luck. She nearly died from malaria and harbors a fear of (and fascination for) mosquitoes, which are everywhere. Her brother Jaz has been diagnosed with an alphabet soup of mental issues, but she prefers to think of him as just “intense.” But when her parents have to fly to Japan to deal with ill relatives, Summer’s doting grandfather Jichan and her overbearing grandmother Obaachan must come out of retirement to drive a combine and cook for a wheat harvesting crew. So when the harvester’s son rejects Summer, when Obaachan can hardly move because of her back pain, and when Jaz and Jichan come down with the flu, Summer must create some new luck for her family. Kadohata uses the technical details surrounding modern wheat harvesting to tell a tale of families that love and support each other, in their own weird ways. Patient readers will be rewarded with a lovely story about a modern immigrant family. (Grades 5 to 9)

BreakfastOnMarsBreakfast on Mars: and 37 Other Delectable Essays, edited by Rebecca Stern and Brad Wolfe
Writing an essay can be hard, especially if you don’t have good examples. This book is chock-full of them, and in it some of today’s best children’s and young adult writers tackle the most dreaded school essay assignments. Kirsten Miller (the Kiki Strike series) writes a persuasive essay called “Sasquatch is Out There,” which is both funny and well-researched. Rita Williams-Garcia (Newbery medal winner for One Crazy Summer) writes a personal essay entitled “Recall and Defend,” in which she tells about when she met Senator Robert Kennedy. Wendy Mass (The Candymakers) teaches “How to Fly” in her take on the informative essay, where she talks about lucid dreaming. Each of the 37 essays displays excellent, interesting, and often quite funny writing. They are worth reading for pleasure as short stories, but they can also provide terrific examples to help kids and teens work on their own essay assignments. (Grades 6 and up)

ghoulishsongGhoulish Song by William Alexander
Alexander has created a companion novel to his National Book Award winning Goblin Secrets novel, which is every bit as good as the first. Kaile misses her late grandfather, who taught her that music gives shape to the world and holds it together. When a local troupe of goblin performers gives her a flute made of bone, the flute insists on playing a mournful song that separates Kaile from her own shadow. The superstitious townsfolk, including her own parents and snotfish brother, know that only the dead have no shadows and so they cast Kaile out of her home. She tries to track down the maker of the flute and the mystery of whose bone it was made from, with her surly shadow following along. When the river threatens to flood the town of Zombay, Kaile must step in to her grandfather’s shoes and hold the world together. This remarkably inventive world is full of clockwork city guards, performing goblins that may or may not steal children away, and music as the fabric that binds the world. It is a remarkable follow-up to my favorite book from 2012. (Grades 4 to 7)

sugar-man-swampThe True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt
Appelt, a Newbery Honor recipient for The Underneath, decided to “write something funny.” What came out is a folksy bayou tale with an environmental bent. Told in alternating chapters, Appelt’s latest follows a young boy and a duo of raccoons who are trying to save the Sugar Man swamp in their own ways. Young Chap Brayburn wants to save his boyhood home and his mother’s sugar-pie shop from developers who want to turn it into an alligator-wrestling amusement park. The raccoons, newly deputized as True Blue Scouts, know that a gang of wild hogs is on the way to ruin the swamp too. Throw in the legend of the Sugar Man and the hunt for the elusive and possibly extinct Lord God Bird, and you’ve got a story reminiscent of Carl Hiaasen‘s books, but with some magic and folklore thrown in for good measure. (Grades 4 to 7)


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