Friday, January 23, 2015

Intermediate fiction

If you frequent the children’s department of Peter White Public Library, you know about the picture book section, and if you have older children you know where to find a good chapter book.  Those with children just learning to read, know where the beginning readers are and non-fiction can’t be missed if you are helping a child with a report, a project, or insatiable curiosity when it comes to bugs, robots, or dinosaurs. 

            One section you might not know is Intermediate Fiction--where the perfect books are, perfect if your child is on the precipice of becoming a full-fledged independent reader.  These books have a “J” on the spine like a chapter book, but they are shelved  closer to the Easy Readers and the picture books. 
Intermediate books tend not to win awards like the Caldecott or the Newbery.  In truth it’s usually not their literary value that makes them perfect; it’s how they fit their intended audience.  The stories they contain are more interesting than the ones found in readers, but they don’t overwhelm if you have a reader who still gets clues from a good illustration or doesn’t have the confidence to take on a longer book.  They often make good read alouds for younger children who are ready to listen to a story in more than one sitting.  They understand the viewpoint of children ages 6-11.
            Many of these books are written as series, which gives readers a sense of predictability. The predictability can make them tedious for more advance readers, but it’s perfect for the intended audience.  One of the longest and most popular series is the Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osbourne, known by many as the Jack and Annie books. These siblings wear jeans and sneakers as they go off on adventures to other times and places, most recently to ancient Greece where they meet Alexander the Great in Stallion by Starlight, book number 49 in the series.
Humor plays an important role in intermediate fiction.  The title character in Frank Einstein by Jon Scieszka is the typical intermediate fiction character: he’s creative, adventurous, and tends to find himself in the wackiest scenarios.   Using real science, Jon Scieszka has created a unique world of adventure and science fiction--an irresistible chemical reaction for middle-grade readers.
Bink and Gollie, a pair of buddies who feature in three recent titles by Kate DiCamillo follow in the tradition of many of the world’s great comic pairs:  think Laurel and Hardy on roller skates or Calvin and Hobbs.  These girls don’t seem to have parents, but they do have imagination.  In many respects they are opposites and can be best enemies as well as best friends, but when the dust settles, they manage to work out their differences.  The unusual style of the Bink and Gollie books features advanced vocabulary and humor and a strong use of graphics with few words per page.  As a result, they are accessible to a wide range of readers. 

The Stink books (Stink is the main character’s name) serve as a companion series to the popular Judy Moody series by Megan McDonald.  Stink in the Freaky Frog Freakout is part wild imagination (can Stink get frog super powers by being licked by a frog?) and part environmental lesson (can Stink help save the different local frog species by getting adults to stop dumping fertilizer?)  Stink’s sense of humor and persistence will keep young readers turning pages to find out.
             Dan Gutman’s My Weird School series features great titles like “Ms. Sue has No Clue,” ”Mr. Jack is a Maniac, ” and the latest addition to our collection,  “Miss Klute Is a Hoot!”  Miss Klute, it turns out is a Labradoodle, hired to help the kids at Ella Mentry School boost their reading scores.  Miss Klute makes a great story to share with one the therapy dogs who visits the Youth Services Department on Thursday nights.  (To learn more about Dog Nights, call 226-4320.)

            Another common element in these books is naughty behavior.  The hijinks of the characters could give pause to parents who don’t think their children need any more ideas on how to misbehave.  On the other hand, the stories allow children to understand consequences and repercussions without actually engaging in the behavior themselves.  Junie B Jones has served as the bad girl of intermediate fiction for over 20 years now.  Her latest, Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten, features a contest to see which classroom can write the best thankful list. Only being thankful is harder than it looks. 

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