MG at Heart Book Club’s August Pick

And the MG@Heart Book Club’s pick for August is….

WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW, by Cindy Baldwin!!

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Fans of The Thing About Jellyfish and A Snicker of Magic will be swept away by Cindy Baldwin’s debut middle grade about a girl coming to terms with her mother’s mental illness.

When twelve-year-old Della Kelly finds her mother furiously digging black seeds from a watermelon in the middle of the night and talking to people who aren’t there, Della worries that it’s happening again—that the sickness that put her mama in the hospital four years ago is back. That her mama is going to be hospitalized for months like she was last time.

With her daddy struggling to save the farm and her mama in denial about what’s happening, it’s up to Della to heal her mama for good. And she knows just how she’ll do it: with a jar of the Bee Lady’s magic honey, which has mended the wounds and woes of Maryville, North Carolina, for generations.

But when the Bee Lady says that the solution might have less to do with fixing Mama’s brain and more to do with healing her own heart, Della must learn that love means accepting her mama just as she is.

“Della’s voice will tug at readers’ heartstrings as she tries to hold her family together. Middle grade stories about mental illness, particularly those that focus on empathy and acceptance, are rare. This heartfelt story will stay with readers. A top choice.” (School Library Journal (starred review))

“[Della’s] first-person narration is realistically earthy without crossing into gritty. This debut novel gushes with Southern charm. This story’s as sweet as Della’s daddy’s watermelons but never saccharine.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Della’s story is a reminder that even under the toughest rinds of troubles we can find the cool, sustaining sweetness of friendship.” (Kirby Larson, author of the Newbery Honor Book Hattie Big Sky)

“Baldwin has written a heartbreaking, yet heartening, story that explores mental illness and its effects on an entire family. Readers will connect with the novel’s well-formed characters and be absorbed by the plot, which pulls no punches but doesn’t overwhelm.” (ALA Booklist (starred review))

“This has a tenderness that will appeal to fans of DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie.” (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)

Where the Watermelons Grow takes a close look at the unpredictable and debilitating nature of schizophrenia. Baldwin writes with a genuine voice.” (Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA))

Where the Watermelons Grow is a spot-on, insightful novel about a preteen learning to live with and accept a parent’s mental illness.” (BookPage.com)

“Cindy Baldwin’s graceful debut is an ode to family and community. Hints of sweet magical realism touch Where the Watermelons Grow, balancing this exquisite novel’s bittersweet authenticity.” (Shelf Awareness (starred review))

The newsletter will go out 8/27. The Twitter chat will be 9/4!

Happy reading!

MG at Heart Book Club Book Review: JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS, by Melissa Sarno

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Our July book club pick was JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS by Melissa Sarno. This incredibly touching story set in Brooklyn, NY, is an intimate look at the life of Cora, her little sister, and her mother, struggling to find a place to call home. The book combines so many true-to-life details, about the houseboats on Gowanus Canal, the tree names lining the streets of Brooklyn, an actual Miss Li and a stray cat, that it felt as tangible as touching the bark of an actual tree (the Tree of Heaven, perhaps) and made Cora and her family feel like real people.

At the beginning, Cora lives in a homeless shelter with her sister Adare, who is “different” from other girls her age, and her mother, who tries to provide for her family with a minimum-wage job. Cora’s horticulturist father has been gone for some time, and they have moved from place to place. Cora finally feels like she wants a permanent place to settle her roots, so when their residence is raided and her family moves to her mother’s friend Willa’s fancy apartment, Cora wants the apartment to be home for keeps. She wants her sister Adare to understand things, and she wants her mother to figure out their path.

Meanwhile, like any middle-grader, she has to figure out how to pass her math class and deal with the classmate making fun of her. She makes friends with Sabina, who lives in a houseboat and prompts a question: How does living in one house but moving from town to town differ from moving from home to home? Cora doesn’t quite know, but Sabina eventually leads Cora to the Tree of Heaven, one of Cora’s father’s favorite trees.

Cora’s dogged pursuit of climbing the Tree of Heaven resonated with me because, so often, we pursue goals like her. What happens when we reach it? What happens if we don’t? It’s the journey that makes the pursuit valuable. The lessons we learn are like scars, branches, and leaves on a tree. And yet, we keep growing. Just like Cora.

To learn more about the author, or for printable drawing pages, activities, recipes, and discussion questions, check out our Middle Grade at Heart newsletter devoted to Just Under the Clouds here.

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The Middle Grade @ Heart book club pick for August is WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW by Cindy Baldwin! Stay tuned for more posts about this awesome book and don’t forget to join us for our Twitter chat on JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS on August 7!

MG at Heart Book Club’s July Pick

The Middle Grade at Heart book club’s pick for July is . . .

JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS, by Melissa Sarno

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Can you still have a home if you don’t have a house? In the spirit of The Truth About Jellyfish and Fish in a Tree comes a stunning debut about a family struggling to find something lasting when everything feels so fleeting.

Always think in threes and you’ll never fall, Cora’s father told her when she was a little girl. Two feet, one hand. Two hands, one foot. That was all Cora needed to know to climb the trees of Brooklyn.

But now Cora is a middle schooler, a big sister, and homeless. Her mother is trying to hold the family together after her father’s death, and Cora must look after her sister, Adare, who’s just different, their mother insists. Quick to smile, Adare hates wearing shoes, rarely speaks, and appears untroubled by the question Cora can’t help but ask: How will she find a place to call home?

After their room at the shelter is ransacked, Cora’s mother looks to an old friend for help, and Cora finally finds what she has been looking for: Ailanthus altissima, the “tree of heaven,” which can grow in even the worst conditions. It sets her on a path to discover a deeper truth about where she really belongs.

Just Under the Clouds will take root in your heart and blossom long after you’ve turned the last page.

“[R]ich and evocative . . . . A moving book about an all-too-common childhood experience, which is fairly uncommon in children’s literature.” — Booklist

“Troubling, affecting, and ultimately uplifting, from a promising debut novelist.” — Kirkus Reviews

“[A] thought provoking debut about the meaning of home and the importance of family.” — Horn Book Magazine

The newsletter will go out Monday, July 30. The Twitter chat will be Tuesday, August 7.

Happy reading!

MG at Heart Book Club Book Review: THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER, by Diane Magras

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Our June book club pick was THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER by Diane Magras. This meticulously researched story set in medieval Scotland was engrossing from the very first page to the detailed research notes just after the story’s conclusion.

Although the book was full of adventure, battles, tough scrapes, and excellent social commentary, it was Drest’s internal journey that captivated me. Because while the plot of the book centers on Drest rescuing her father and brothers, members of a legendary war-band, the heart of the story is all about whether she herself will take her place in the Mad Wolf’s legend or create one of her own.

And so she sets off for Faintree Castle with Emerick, a wounded enemy soldier, as her sometimes prisoner, sometimes friend. Throughout her rescue mission to Faintree Castle, Drest not only recounts her family’s code to Emerick and Tig, an additional companion they pick up on the way, but she forms guiding principles of her own. In what feels like a timeless middle-grade theme, Drest moves from the very battle-focused code her father and brothers taught her to one of her own design.

That’s not to say that Drest doesn’t throw herself into danger, risking her life not only for her friends, but complete strangers. She has a strong moral compass and constantly fights to right wrongs when she sees injustice happening around her. That’s why the revelation that some consider her family bandits, not heroes, weighs so heavily on her.

Ultimately, the pragmatism and bravery Drest shows on her journey—whether saving a witch from burning at the stake or sparing a bandit who torments her throughout her journey—makes her a legend in her own right. And she even discovers, as with all legends, the truth about her family’s own legends isn’t black and white: Not quite as heroic as her family might have led her to believe, but not as dastardly either.

Readers ages 10 to 110 will fall under Drest’s spell as they fly through this captivating story. To learn more about the author, or for printable drawing pages, activities, recipes, and discussion questions, check out our Middle Grade at Heart newsletter devoted to The Mad Wolf’s Daughter.

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The Middle Grade @ Heart book club pick for July is JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS by Melissa Sarno! Stay tuned for more posts about this awesome book and don’t forget to join us for our Twitter chat on THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER on July 3!

MG at Heart Writer’s Toolbox: Using Imagined Conversations to Draw Character Relationships

The Middle Grade at Heart team is back again with a mid-month post about our June pick, The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras.

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If you haven’t already read The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, get thee to a library! I really couldn’t put this one down, tearing through Drest’s enchanting story in the wee hours of the night.

This story has the feel of the classic medieval fantasies I loved as a child and still devour today. Set in Great Britain, the story follows the adventures of Drest, the youngest child of the infamous Scot known across the land as The Mad Wolf, as she tries desperately to save her family from imprisonment and execution.

Since it happens in the first twenty pages, I’ll give you a little spoiler to set the stage. Late one night, Drest wakes from her place by the fire with her brothers and father. She’s heard a noise and tries to warn the others, but they ignore her. Soon after, they are surprised by a nearby kingdom’s soldiers, who capture Drest’s father and all her brothers, leaving her alone with only a wounded knight they left behind during the attack.

The reader only gets to meet Grimbol (the Mad Wolf) and Drest’s brothers for a few brief scenes during the battle and ensuing capture. And yet, Magras needed a way for us to understand how a young girl could love her family enough to risk a terrifying journey and terrible odds to save them. The way she did this was one of my favorite aspects of the story—a series of ongoing imaginary conversations between Drest and her family members.

Even though we know right off that these are imagined conversations (not ESP or some sort of magical communication), the conversations are so natural that the reader gets a chance to get to know Drest’s beloved family and to understand their family dynamic even though her family is miles away in prison.

“Uwen’s voice in her mind let out a snort of disgust. Go along and hide, then. Be the sniveling, grub-spotted barnacle you are. But when Drest rose, she didn’t’ go hide; she began to run.” P17

The brilliance of lines like these is that they not only show us the hilarious curse-filled banter that is normal in Drest’s family, but they begin to draw both Drest’s brothers and her own character. Because of course, even though the words are delivered in her brother’s voices, they are actually a product of Drest’s own mind. So in the example above, she’s goading herself to action even when she’s cold, and tired, and terrified. Such is her strength and tenacity throughout the story.

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These conversations with her brothers also allow us to understand more about what Drest’s life was like before her family was captured. Since we don’t get to see more than a few moments of “regular life” before the action begins, this gives the reader much-needed context and makes us care about the stakes: If Drest fails, her entire family will hang.

Eventually, real-life conversation with Drest’s traveling companions pulls her away from these in-depth conversations with her brothers. But by the time that happens, we know what we need to know about how she feels about her family, what the rules of their world are, and how the brothers treated their beloved—but never coddled—younger sister. All without meeting them in person. That’s some great storytelling, if you ask me.

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Read The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras and then join us for our #MGBookClub Twitter chat on July 3 at 8pm EST. Also check us out on FlipGrid: https://flipgrid.com/b4a8ac  (password: themadwolfsdaughter). And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter by June 25 to get recipes, activities, discussion questions, and other resources on The Mad Wolf’s Daughter: http://Eepurl.com/cRubSH 

 

MG at Heart Book Club Book Review: EVERY SHINY THING by Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison

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In May, the Middle Grade @ Heart book club had the absolute delight of reading EVERY SHINY THING by Cordelia Jensen and our very own contributor, Laurie Morrison! EVERY SHINY THING is an engaging and emotional story told half in prose and half in verse from the perspectives of Lauren and Sierra, two very different girls who are brought together after they both experience the pain of being separated from a loved one.

In EVERY SHINY THING, one of the teachers, Mr. Ellis, teaches Sierra how to structure an essay. He tells her that she must choose a thesis statement and then take examples from the test to prove it. So for this review, I will start with a thesis statement: EVERY SHINY THING is a beautifully told, important novel that teaches valuable lessons about justice, friendship, and brokenness (as well as essay structure!)

EVERY SHINY THING raises important questions about what it means to fight for justice. Lauren is an empathic character from a wealthy family who has always been a helpful sister. When her brother moves to a boarding school for children with autism, she decides to direct her empathic instincts toward raising money for people less fortunate than herself. She begins by selling things she doesn’t need, but her Robin Hood plan spirals out of control when she starts to take things that don’t belong to her. Lauren brings Sierra into her schemes, declaring that they are “partners in justice,” rather than crime, which leads the reader to ask themselves: are good intentions enough to justify the things we say and do in the name of justice? For readers interested in the things kids can do to join the fight for justice and equality, the Simplicity-A-Thon hosted by Lauren’s school provides a welcome alternative to her misguided schemes.

EVERY SHINY THING also does a wonderful job at portraying middle grade friendships. The relationships in EVERY SHINY THING are at times heartwarming, at times troubled and complex, and always realistic. The emotional ups and downs of Lauren and Sierra’s friendship, measured in kaleidoscope-colored days, will keep readers of all ages engaged and hoping that our two protagonists find lucky green days. One of my favorite parts of the novel is the sleepover the two girls have together, giggling and asking a Magic 8 ball silly questions–it’s an experience that many readers will find relatable. And yet, their friendship is complicated both by Lauren’s schemes and Sierra’s need to take care of someone the way she used to take care of her mother, who was sent to prison. It is at times difficult to read about the way Sierra hides her true feelings in order to care for Lauren. In a heartbreaking moment, Sierra turns to her beloved kaleidoscope for help:

When I got home,

I looked into my kaleidoscope

and this time shook and shook

for green to

rise up

not for Mom,

 

for Lauren.

(I did say this story was beautifully told, didn’t I?) Although EVERY SHINY THING covers difficult and painful subjects, readers will be left with a sense of hope for Lauren and Sierra’s friendship, and perhaps for some of their own relationships too, as they learn that sometimes relationships need to change in order to grow.

This leads to my last point: EVERY SHINY THING demonstrates the beautiful ways in which things that are broken can be put back together. Both Lauren and Sierra come from families that have been taken apart in some way. Lauren and her parents struggle to relate to each other without the presence of Lauren’s brother, Ryan, and Sierra is placed in foster care after her mother is imprisoned. Sierra’s foster mother, Anne, makes jewelry out of found objects and broken glass. She states, “Sometimes, the best thing we can do for anyone is to let them fall.” Relationships and families may permanently change, but readers will take comfort in the fact that “broken things can be repurposed to make something beautiful,” and that healing does not come from going right back to the way things were, but from creating something new with people we care about. I like to think that creating something new often starts with picking up a story like this one (and who can resist that shiny cover?!).

Mr. Ellis says you must restate your introduction in your conclusion, so I’ll say it again: EVERY SHINY THING is a wonderful and important story that will help young readers understand justice, friendship, and how to make something beautiful out of broken pieces.

The Middle Grade @ Heart book club pick for June is THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER by Diane Magras! Stay tuned for more posts about this awesome book and join us for our Twitter chat on July 3!

MG at Heart Writer’s Toolbox: Writing a Fallible Narrator

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Since the MG at Heart May pick is Every Shiny Thing, the book I co-wrote with Cordelia Jensen, we’re handling this writer’s toolbox post a little differently than usual. I’m here as both MG at Heart contributor and author to tell you about a challenge I faced when working on Every Shiny Thing and some strategies I used to address that challenge.

Every Shiny Thing has two alternating narrators, Lauren, whose chapters are in prose, and Sierra, whose chapters are in verse. I wrote Lauren’s sections, and Lauren…is not exactly a reliable narrator.

She isn’t unreliable on purpose. She doesn’t withhold information or tell lies. Greta Olson, who wrote an essay called “Reconsidering Unreliability: Fallible and Untrustworthy Narrators,” would categorize Lauren as fallible rather than untrustworthy. Fallible narrators, according to Olson, are “mistaken about their judgments or perceptions or are biased.” This is Lauren, for sure. She’s mistaken in some of her judgments and perceptions because she has some fundamental misbeliefs.

Lauren’s central misbelief is that her parents were wrong to send her older brother to a therapeutic boarding school for autistic teens because the school is not a good place for him. This misbelief leaves Lauren feeling frustrated and alone, and it leads her to question a lot of things about her parents and the privileged world she lives in, which sets the plot in motion.

But I wasn’t attempting to trick readers into believing Lauren’s misbelief along with her. One of the main things our editor brought up in our edit letter was the challenge of “toeing the line between what the reader knows to be true (that Ryan’s school is probably a good place) and what Lauren believes is true (that her parents are making a selfish mistake in sending him away).” Our editor went on to say, “It’s delicate, but I think you can do it.”

Delicate, indeed! So how did I try to accomplish this feat? Here are three strategies I used.

1.) I built in self-consciousness and desperation at the sentence level to hint at the uncertainty behind Lauren’s words.

Let’s look at the very beginning of the book, when Lauren reflects on what it was like to visit Ryan’s school for Family Weekend. She says:

There’s nothing harder than saying goodbye to Ryan.

It was hard enough back in August, when Mom and Dad first took him to his new school. Back then, I knew I’d miss him. And I was afraid that this fancy therapeutic boarding school way far away in the middle of nowhere, North Carolina, wasn’t the right place for him, even though Ry said he wanted to go, and Mom and Dad kept gushing about what a wonderful opportunity it was, and his old occupational therapist, Jenna, said you couldn’t find a better school for a teen on the autism spectrum.

But saying goodbye today, at the end of Family Weekend? This was worse. Way, way worse. Because now that I’ve seen the place for myself and seen how Ryan is there, I’m not just afraid it isn’t right. Now I know it’s not.

It was awful. Really, it was.

Here, I tried to convey the sense that Lauren has a lot of intense emotions she doesn’t know what to do with. Lauren uses repetition and short sentences that pile on top of each other, reflecting how urgently she wants to hold onto her misbelief despite some evidence to the contrary when she says, “This was worse. Way, way worse,” and, “It was awful. Really, it was.” Lauren also goes a bit overboard emphasizing just how certain she is with italics for words like “afraid” and “know.” And when she mentions reasons the school might not seem so bad, she often does so in long, breathless sentences, like the one in this passage about all of the people (Ryan included) who think the school is a good idea. It’s as if she’s rushing past the things that might seem positive as quickly as she possibly can.

2.) I allowed Lauren to admit details that contradict her misbelief…but then she either lets them pass without commentary or discounts them.

In addition to admitting all the people who think the school is a good idea, Lauren lists other aspects of the school that might seem positive to people who “aren’t paying close attention.” For instance, she admits, “It’s actually sort of beautiful, with purple-gray mountains in the distance and a long, winding driveway and super-green hills.” But then she moves right past that description to get to the things that aren’t a good fit for Ryan, in her mind.

Lauren also narrates moments that show how hard it is for her parents to say goodbye to Ryan even as she worries that they have sent him to the school because they think their lives will be easier if other people are taking care of him. For instance, when Lauren remembers that her mom was crying at the end of the weekend, she says, “For a fraction of a second, I felt sorry for her, but she’s the one who decided it was a good idea for Ryan to go to this terrible school, where he obviously doesn’t belong.” So there’s this split-second recognition that her mom is struggling with this transition and loves Ryan so much…but Lauren isn’t ready to accept that her parents are doing the best they can, so she immediately downplays that.

Basically, I tried to include plenty of clues for the reader to process, even though Lauren doesn’t let herself process them.

3.) I showed the source of Lauren’s misbelief so readers could understand where she was coming from.

I didn’t want readers to be so frustrated with Lauren’s misbelief that they would stop reading, so it was important to show that she had some good reasons for worrying.

Also in the first chapter, Lauren says, “The thing about Ry is, sometimes he goes along with things that make him feel awful because he wants to make other people feel good, and then it all gets to be too much, and he melts down.” Then she gives examples of other times Ryan tried to do what he thought other people wanted him to do and finishes, “So now he might just be sticking out boarding school because he thinks it’s important to Mom and Dad. And then there’ll be nobody around but Scott the Smug OT to comfort him when it’s all too much to stick out.” And in her second chapter, we find out that Ryan attended another school at home where the therapies were detrimental for him, and it took her parents a little while to realize that school was not a good fit.

These parts make it clear that Lauren’s worry stems from a deep affection for her brother and past experiences that have made her fears seem plausible. These insights into the valid reasons for Lauren’s not-so-valid belief help readers feel for her, I think.

I hope these strategies are helpful for other writers who are crafting fallible narrators, or for readers who are reading books that feature these kinds of characters. And if you read Every Shiny Thing with us this month, I’m sure you’ll notice lots of other ways Lauren’s fallibility comes through…some of which I likely didn’t do consciously. I’d love to hear about them if you do!

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Our newsletter about Every Shiny Thing will go out on 5/28 and our Twitter Book Club Chat about the book will be on 6/5 at 8pm EST with the hashtag #mgbookclub. Hope you can join us!

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Laurie Morrison taught middle school English for ten years and is the author of two middle grade novels: EVERY SHINY THING, which she co-wrote with Cordelia Jensen, and UP FOR AIR, which comes out from Abrams/Amulet Books in spring of 2019. She has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives with her family in Philadelphia. She loves books for older middle grade readers, fresh-baked pastries, being outside, and the ocean.

 

MG at Heart Book Club’s May Pick

The Middle Grade at Heart book club’s pick for May is . . .

EVERY SHINY THING, by Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison

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In this beautifully constructed middle-grade novel, told half in prose and half in verse, Lauren prides herself on being a good sister, and Sierra is used to taking care of her mom. When Lauren’s parents send her brother to a therapeutic boarding school for teens on the autism spectrum and Sierra moves to a foster home in Lauren’s wealthy neighborhood, both girls are lost until they find a deep bond with each other. But when Lauren recruits Sierra to help with a Robin Hood scheme to raise money for autistic kids who don’t have her family’s resources, Sierra has a lot to lose if the plan goes wrong. Lauren must learn that having good intentions isn’t all that matters when you battle injustice, and Sierra needs to realize that sometimes, the person you need to take care of is yourself.

“Thoughtful readers will find a lot to like here—sadness, suspense, even humor. They may even pause to consider their own privilege.” (School Library Journal)

“Sierra’s narrative, in poetry, captures her spare, cautious, and constrained life. Lauren’s prose is rich and descriptive, much like her own experiences. Together, the contrasting narratives tell a touching story about friendship, loyalty, and resilience that will have lots of appeal.” (Booklist)

“An inventive and emotional story about family and friendship.” (Erin Entrada Kelly, Newbery Honor winner for Hello, Universe)

Don’t forgot to sign up for our newsletter — it goes out 5/28, and our Twitter chat about EVERY SHINY THING will be on Tuesday, June 5 at 8 pm EST. Use the hashtag #MGBookClub to participate!

MG at Heart Book Club Book Review: THE PARKER INHERITANCE by Varian Johnson

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April’s Middle Grade @ Heart selection was Varian Johnson’s fantastic new mystery, THE PARKER INHERITANCE. Everyone on the MG @ Heart team absolutely loved this one! Since so much of the book has to do with the mysterious letter Candice finds in her grandmother’s attic, we thought we’d write our review in the form of a letter, too! If you’ve read THE PARKER INHERITANCE, you might notice just a few similarities between this letter and that one—though there aren’t any puzzles hidden in here! You’ll have to read our newsletter for one of those.

Dear Reader,

I write to you on behalf of superstar author Varian Johnson’s newest book, THE PARKER INHERITANCE. This remarkable novel is smart, engaging, and heartfelt, combining a classic-feeling puzzle hunt reminiscent of THE WESTING GAME with a fascinating, thought-provoking historical mystery. Just as Candice and Brandon are pulled deeper and deeper into solving the mystery of Candice’s grandmother and the Washington family, you, the reader, will be drawn further and further into this un-put-down-able page turner.

If you’ve wavered about whether or not you should read THE PARKER INHERITANCE, I promise it’s no mystery. Here are three “clues” to why this middle grade read should be next up on your to-read list.

Clue #1: THE PARKER INHERITANCE does a fantastic job of weaving together three different generations of residents of Lambert, South Carolina: Candice and Brandon in the present day, Candice’s grandmother Abigail in 2007, and the Washington family in the 1950s. The way the narrative switches back and forth between different points of view will keep you turning pages—and challenge you to see whether you’re able to connect all the dots and solve the puzzle before Candice and Brandon!

Clue #2: THE PARKER INHERITANCE is accessible enough to appeal to both upper elementary and middle school students, but it doesn’t flinch away from addressing some pretty big issues in an age-appropriate manner, either. Varian Johnson skillfully explores racism both past and present, bullying, sexism, and homophobia—but the pitch-perfect middle grade voice makes each of these topics engrossing and palatable to the pickiest middle grade reader.

Clue #3: THE PARKER INHERITANCE is one of very few middle grade books that truly has appeal for everyone—kids, adults, picky readers, lovers of adventure, and those who prefer more emotional character-focused books. Perfectly balanced and engagingly told, this is the perfect kind of book for kids and their parents or teachers to read and discuss together. (If you need suggestions for discussion questions, check out the discussion guide in our April newsletter!)

Sincerely,

The Middle Grade @ Heart Team