New Boy Books I’ve Been Reading

BIRD LAKE MOON by Kevin Henkes (published by Greenwillow) is a boy book that deals with issues of divorce and death. Twelve-year-old Mitch Sinclair reluctantly accompanies his mom to his grandparents’ lake house after his dad announces he wants a divorce. The tension mounts quickly as Mitch finds it hard to accept the divorce, and his grandparents seem less than enthusiastic about their long-term house guests.

Mitch adopts an empty house next door as his getaway place, but too soon the long-gone owners of the house return. They are a family of four–Mom, Dad, Spencer (10) and Lolly (7). They bring with them the sad memory of a first son who drowned in the lake eight years ago.
Mitch and Spencer become friends, even after Spencer discovers Mitch’s prank to release the family dog. They discover a bond in their losses–Mitch’s father and Spencer’s brother. Both of them come to realize they must rise above their problems and take control of their lives.
The book is well-written with characters many young readers can identify with. While this book is not a fast-moving action thriller, it offers a glimpse into modern life which many children can relate to and which they would find interesting. For those readers ready to try another Henkes’ novel, direct them to OLIVE’S OCEAN–another introspective book which deals with death and coming of age.
GHOST LETTERS by Stephen Alters (published by Bloomsbury) has a combination of adventure, supernatural, and historical elements. Gil–a fourteen-year-old who has just been expelled from McCauley Prep School because he copied a poem off the Internet and claimed it as his own–is exiled to seaside Massachusetts to stay with a grandfather he barely knows while his busy jet-setting parents decide what to do with him.
In the three-week interim, he finds a mysterious blue bottle at the ocean’s edge and begins sending messages back and forth over time to an Indian boy caught up in an 1896 British conflict in the tea growing area of Ajeegarb.
While Gil is trying to tying to make sense of these strange messages, he meets Nargis–a local girl his own age–at a trash dump where they discover another mystery–a smelly skeleton hand belonging to a 19th century local spinster, the victim of lost love.
There is also a mysterious ghostly letter carrier and a poetic genie involved in all this. Sometimes the fantastical elements seem a bit too much, but the book is a page turner. Gil and Nargis are determined to solve the mystery and to help their new friend in India escape the horrors of war as well as reunite the star-crossed lovers.
With the threat of being sent to military school looming over him, Gil manages to use the supernatural powers to his advantage, and in doing so a happy ending ensues for all.
This book provides interesting mysteries woven into a historical setting and interlaced with numerous fantasy elements. Boy readers should enjoy this fast-paced tale.

Baseball Books & a Birthday

Happy Birthday wishes are in order today for my son, Dan!!! He’s shown at the left with his father on his wedding day, two and a half years ago. From the very first, he loved sports–baseball, basketball, soccer…

So as a salute to Dan (who played a valiant Little League catcher) and in the spirit of the summer season, I’ll highlight a few baseball books today.

The Littlest Leaguer by Syd Hoff. Harper Collins, 2008.
An EZ reader in which the main character shows that determination overcomes obstacles.

Hello, Fredbird! by Ozzie Smith. Mascot Books, 2006. (I put this one in for Dan.)
St. Louis Cardinals’ mascot, Fredbird, shares his fun at the ballgame.

Swindle by Gordon Korman. Scholastic, 2008. When a boy is cheated out of a rare Babe Ruth baseball card, he leads an unlikely team of friends to right his wrong.

The Aurora County All-Stars by Deborah Wiles. Harcourt, 2007. When 12-year-old House (a pitcher with a broken elbow) somehow manages to overcome his animosity toward pesky visitor, Frances, he helps combine forces for both an exciting baseball game and a winning performance for Aurora County’s 200th Anniversary pageant.

Edward’s Eyes by Patricia MacLachlin. Atheneum, 2007. A bittersweet story of a family’s loss and legacy woven around the game of baseball.

Summerland by Michael Chabon. Hyperion, 2002. In this first novel for younger readers by the Pultizer Prize winning author, Mr. Chabon offers a rich fantasy story for older readers which weaves mythological elements into the ultimate contest of baseball.

I just had to include SUMMERLAND because I read it shortly after I’d finished the first draft of my fantasy baseball novel for middle grade readers (THE SLIGHTLY TANGLED TALES OF JIM-BO BAXTER.) I couldn’t believe that someone else had thought of combining the two worlds (although Mr. Chabon’s fantasy world is on a much more elevated level than mine.) Still I felt honored that I’d shared a bit of writing inspiration with such a great writer–and I recently had the opportunity to met Mr. Chabon and listen to his thoughts on writing. What a wonderful experience! And while my TALES has earned a regional award from SCBWI, it has yet to find a publishing home.

So hats off to my amazing son, Dan, on his birthday! And may his favorite baseball team, the CARDINALS, have another World Series winning season.

And three cheers for great summer reads!