Sunday, February 21, 2016

Great Lakes Great Books

The 2016/2017 Great Lakes Great Books Committee recently met to chose the best literature written in 2015 for Kindergarten through High School readers. Eight books for each of the five age categories were selected to receive this Michigan award, including this list for Fourth and Fifth grade students: Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff, Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt and:

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan begins with three sisters who are bound to the forest by a witch who lays a curse on them that can only be broken when they save the life of a boy. When a young boy stumbles into their woods, they gift him with a harmonica that plays better than any other ever made – capable of three melodies at once. The boy becomes a harmonica maker and the harmonica gets stored away, until it finds its way into the hands of a young German boy with a facial birthmark, putting him in opposition of Hitler’s perfect German policy. A year later, in California a Mexican family has an opportunity to manage a large farm for the Japanese landowners who interned during WWII, where the harmonica resurfaces in a hidden room. Finally, the harmonica lands with two orphaned brothers desperate to be adopted, but placed with an heiress who wanted to adopt just one child, and a girl, not a boy. Ryan’s spellbinding tale tugs at heart strings, while dealing with complex historical issues; and will delight readers of all ages.

In Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper the line is clear. If your skin is dark, you attend school, church and social functions with people who also have dark skin. If it’s white, you can do whatever you want, including vote.  In the segregated south of 1932, injustice pours out over the black community of Bumblebee, North Carolina. A cross-burning in the night, followed by threats and other acts of vandalism and crime by the Klu Klux Klan shatter 10 year old Stella’s perceived safety in her community and family. As she struggles to make sense of the brutality and the fear that she sees in her adult neighbors’ and parents’ eyes, Stella longs to share the story with the world. Using writing as an outlet, she chronicles the journey her father and two men take to register to vote, as well as the night a family of 11 is burned out of their home, and the clues that point to the identity of the KKK leader in her community. Draper’s superb writing shares a story of hope in the face of terror; a book that should not be missed.  

Part imagination and part wonderful, Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley is a spell-binding book that explores navigating new friendships, finding hope in bleak circumstances, saying goodbye to a dying family member and believing in magic. Micah’s grandfather Ephraim has told him about the Circus Mirandus for years, and he now wants Micah to go find the light bender to grant him a dying wish. Sneaking around his bitter, hostile Aunt is no easy task, and Micah has no idea where to look for this magical place. Furthermore, Micah has the opportunity to start a new friendship with Jenny Mendoza, a journey of awkward proportions that he does not easily navigate. Should he include Jenny in his urgent quest to find the circus performer whom his grandfather met some 70 years ago? And how will they convince him to fulfill his grandfather’s request?  Readers will applaud how this social misfit faces his fears of inadequacy and loneliness as he works through grief and loss. 

In Plastic Ahoy!: Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Patricia Newman, two young scientists seek to measure the size, both surface area and depth, of the plastic soup in the Pacific Ocean gyre, as well as how it affects the marine life’s ecosystem. With excellent pictures, maps and fact charts, readers learn how two undergraduate students propose a hypothesis, then use the scientific method in the field to answer their questions. This book chronicles their journey to the North Pacific Central gyre with a team of scientists and explorers. It gives readers a real sense of how scientific exploration works, what it costs, and how sometimes the focus shifts as one question can lead to bigger questions that may or may not be answered.

Snow White and the Seven Robots by Louise Simonson offers a new twist on a classic fairy tale, while still including seven lovable miners and a very vain queen. While she knows she will have to relinquish her crown and related powers someday, the queen devises a plan to genetically alter her successor to be an ugly, unusual baby girl with none of the traits that the galaxy’s subjects look for in a queen. Unfortunately her plan, like in the original story, backfires and she is faced with a brave, fair, just young woman who threatens her days of rule. So the Queen orders a robot to kill Snow, setting into motion Snow’s escape by spaceship. Snow White lands on a planet that mines jewels and befriends seven charming robots who work to keep Snow safe from the evil queen. A modern twist on this fairy tale ending will leave audiences talking and wanting more.

In The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart a boy sets out to become a man before cancer ravages his body. The only goal on his bucket list is to climb to the top of Mount Rainier. Telling only his best friend Jessie, he sets off across country on a bus with a few dollars and his dog Beau. Unsure of where he went, his parents and authorities launch a massive search for Mark, who sets up diversions to throw them off his trail. Jessie is faced with her own dilemma: should she tell Mark’s parents his intended destination, or in the name of friendship allow him to complete his journey? It’s not that Mark is a normally a deceptive kid. It’s just that he wants to complete the task, in order to keep a promise to his deceased grandfather - before the adults barge in and stop him. This moving coming of age story offers relatable characters, a sweet dog - boy connection; and an authentic look at the consequences Mark experiences as he naively strides toward his destination.

--By Jeni Kilpela, Library Assistant, Youth Services

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