December 11, 2012

More Christmas Stories

Christmas stories for the middle grades that reach beyond the basic to a deeper message can be hard to find. Here are my two picks for the season:

The Christmas Rat by Avi
Image from TitlePeek
Eric meets Anjela Gabrail while stuck at home alone. Anje, as he's called, is a large man with white-blond hair who wears wing emblems on his ball cap.  (An allusion to the Angel Gabriel, found in Christian, Jewish, and Islamic stories.) 

As a building exterminator, Anje recruits Eric to help him kill the lone rat living in the basement. In this suspenseful story, Eric struggles with good vs. evil and comes to a surprising conclusion about the "Christmas Rat."

The Last Holiday Concert by Andrew Clements
Image from TitlePeek
Evan Hart, tasked with running the school holiday concert after an unfortunate rubber band incident, learns that being popular is not the same as being a leader. Who knew getting kids to sing could be so tough? And who knew that Evan's efforts would become so earnest?

I can't resist including the quote below from Andrew Clements. Happy Reading!

"Sometimes kids ask how I've been able to write so many books. The answer is simple: one word at a time. Which is a good lesson, I think. You don't have to do everything at once. You don't have to know how every story is going to end. You just have to take that next step, look for that next idea, write that next word. And growing up, it's the same way. We just have to go to that next class, read that next chapter, help that next person. You simply have to do that next good thing, and before you know it, you're living a good life."

December 7, 2012

Christmas Stories

Growing up in Hawaii and Southern California made it hard to imagine a "White Christmas," but my enthusiasm for Christmas stories was ever present. The magic of a Christmas snow is not lost on this California girl. 

A few years back we had a Christmas Eve snow here in Wisconsin and our family DID snuggle on the couch, fire blazing, and share Christmas books while the snow fell. I shared with my children some of the books listed below. I hope--rain or shine--that you might enjoy these books too!

The Little Fir Tree by Margaret Wise Brown

Image from Library Thing
This book is my ALL TIME FAVORITE. If you are able, order the 1954 version of Margaret Wise Brown's book. It has the music and words of carols interspersed between classic illustrations and the story of the little crippled boy and the little fir tree which brought him great joy. Reading and singing this story is the highlight of my Christmas reading season.

Lighthouse Christmas by Toni Buzzeo

Image from TitlePeek
Lighthouse Christmas tells the story of Frances and Peter, living in an isolated lighthouse with their father. A winter storm hits and the kids are sure Santa won't be able to find them. Despite their sadness, Frances and Peter celebrate and are surprised when Santa finds them (thanks to the Flying Santa Service.)

The Little Drummer Boy illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats

Image from TitlePeek
(I must love to sing.) Ezra Jack Keats illustrates the famous song written by Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati, and Harry Simeone in 1958. The illustrations are typical Keats; collage-like and beautiful.

In the next week I'll be posting middle grade Christmas fiction to share. Perhaps we'll have some snow?

December 6, 2012


Everyone remembers the oddball in his or her school--the kid who never quite fit in, the student with a disability, the kid with family problems. As we age, we learn to show compassion and kindness to others (I hope!), but it can be hard to do this as a young person.

I've recently witnessed both criticism and compassion on the part of students--both part of learning to be a better person. These events reminded me that literature is a great way to bring home the lesson: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." 

(By the way, this lesson of reciprocity is a global moral extending back to ancient civilizations. It is taught in all major faiths as a manner of recognizing the image of God in all people.)

Here are my picks for helping middle grade students empathize with the oddballs among us:

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
Image from Novelist
Mad Max, aka that "retard", is a giant, dumb eighth grader struggling to overcome the terrible reputation of his father. His life begins to change when Kevin, suffering from a disease that stunts his growth, moves in down the street. Kevin is brilliant and, with the locomotion Max provides, the two are able to take quests around the neighborhood as "Freak the Mighty." As the story progresses, Max's father kidnaps him and Kevin dies. These events lead to an epiphany for Max that forever changes his life course.

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
Image from Novelist

Georges must tackle the struggles that accompany a social and economic downturn in his life. Suddenly abandoned and tormented by his lifelong friend, Jason, Georges befriends Safer, a home schooled boy with an endearing family. The boys bond while spying upon the mysterious tenant in their building, Mr. X. Of course, nothing is as it seems and the revelations the boys encounter reveal the secrets they keep, their potential to become leaders, and their ability to see the forest for the trees.