Like Non-Fiction, I haven’t read near the amount of Junior Fiction this year as I have in past years, but I did go through a short spell a month or so back where I read a few of those titles on my JF TBR shelf. There's another handful that I'm planning on reading before the end of the year, but I figured now was as good a time as any to share these ones. They range from one extreme (historical fiction specifically for learning purposes) to the other (magical fiction for fun and imagination).
The Iron Dragon Never Sleeps by Stephen Krensky
This is a small book that I picked up when I was planning a unit on California history for my kiddos last year. It isn’t your typical Gold Rush era story, which is both good and bad. On the down side, this story definitely has the feel of existing so that a lesson can be taught. The characters are somewhat thin, and the plot is a bit stilted. However, I think that, in the right situation, the positives outweigh the negatives. It teaches much about the competition that went into the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, as well as the mistreated Chinese workers that helped to build it. This book turns a blot in California’s history into regret for the past and hope for the future. I’d so much rather learn from mistakes and build compassion than cover them up to save face. This may not be award winning fiction, but it does provide an interesting perspective, and is much more fun to read than a textbook.
Journey to Jo’Burg by Beverly Naidoo
Another title that I purchased to go along with school studies, this is a quick story that serves as a great introduction to South African history and the apartheid regime. The author, born and raised in South Africa, has first hand experience with trying, at a young age, to process the inhumanity surrounding her. I think that she does a beautiful job of showing the difference in culture at an appropriate level for grade school children. The main characters, being children, make this story especially touching. Simple story, complex themes, and a worthwhile read.
The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman
I'm coming to think of Sid Fleischman as a new favorite author. I loved Bandit’s Moon and By the Great Horn Spoon! (talk about great perspectives on California history!) so I was excited to read his Newbery Award winning novel. I love his characters, how he interjects humor and adventure into his stories, and how he makes the historical settings seem like a normal part of life. This is Historical Junior Fiction at its best. The Whipping Boy tells the story of Prince Brat and the boy who takes the physical brunt of the prince’s punishments. It was fun, teaches a great lesson on humility, and—while I don’t think it was quite as good as the others of his I’ve read—was simply a lot of fun.
Magic in the Park by Ruth Chew
This book came home with my eldest daughter from school when she was in 2nd grade, and she loved how the magical creativity set her imagination going. Originally published in 1972, it has that lovely Nancy-Drew-ish vintage flavor. The kids go play in the park by themselves and run around the city all by themselves and are never missed, fun stuff like that. That’s not the point of the story though, the point of the story is to find out what is going on with the old man in the park that feeds the birds…and why a mysterious looking tree seems to change locations. For young readers (or listeners) it is a great adventure, though the older ones may find it a bit silly. It made me miss the days as a kid when I used to read mysteries like they were going out of style. There’s something happy about vintage literature, (not classic, necessarily, just somewhat aged,) whether it’s for children or adults. Something that sets that old imagination back on fire.
The House on Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne
I grew up with Pooh stories, and my kiddos grew up watching Pooh movies, but I don't think I'd ever read any of it in Milne's actual words. I was missing out! My 7 year-old and I were both enchanted with the wording, and with the bear of very little brain. She had never before been interested in hearing or seeing anything to do with Pooh, but this book changed all that. As a girl whose stuffed-with-fluff friends spend each night on her bed, this is a story that she could relate to. What sweet characters; what gentle storytelling. Just as the end was beginning to be too sad to bear, what with Goodbyes and all, Milne refocuses on the bright side, leaving a sweet comforting memory of your time in the Hundred Acre Wood.