Tony Abbott | The Children’s Book Review | December 14, 2017
I guess I should admit here that I’m pretty stingy with my reading of books for young people. I’m a slow reader to begin with, easily distracted and always impatient, so I tend to not finish reading what I’ve started; I am impulsive and undedicated. There. I’ve said it. Not proud of it, but there are so many grown-up books that I need to know, plus so little time, and, well, you understand. I write books, but my idea of a perfect life would be to simply read other people’s books all day, read everything I can get my hands on, re-read when I want to, and then talk about what I’ve read. Eat once in a while, too. And sleep. But mostly read. Still, here’s my choice of five books that I think will last forever.
Written by Bruce Brooks
I had the pleasure of meeting Bruce at a conference in 1994, the year I began publishing. He signed What Hearts for me, I came home and read it, and for me it’s been the very highest standard of literature for children ever since. Its story is heartbreaking and heart-healing, the language is both poetic and uncannily spot on, the structure—four episodes in the life of Asa, a boy with a troubled family, from first grade to seventh—blows you away when you finally understand the vastness of what the title means. There is nothing like this book, a Newbery Honor. It is a crime that it’s not more easily available.
Ages 9+ |Publisher: Laura Geringer Books |1992 | ISBN: 0-06-021131-8
Written by Natalie Babbitt
This well-known story—it’s been a film which I rather like, though the author told me she didn’t; and a Broadway musical?!—is about a girl, Winnie, who discovers a family of immortal folks, the Tucks, living a simple eternal life deep in the woods behind her house. There is a stranger who wants to use their gift for his own gain. Winnie is drawn into the beauty of the family’s life, but also its dangers and the particular sorrow of everlasting life, while the world and its people age and pass by. Again, perfectly structured, this book is modeled like a giant wheel, turning page by page through the seasons. I defy any reader to remain unchanged after reading it.
Ages 9+ | Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux | 1975; 2007 reprint | ISBN-13: 978-0312369811
Written by Laurie Halse Anderson
For a while I taught creative writing and Chains was one my favorite texts for the subtle way it brings readers so deeply and immediately—and emotionally—into events from almost two and a half centuries ago. A real wonder of voice and detail. The American Revolution is the backdrop, but what makes this different is that the story is told in sparkling detail by Isabel, a slave living in Boston, while the forces that would lead to war boil all around her. Chains is joined by Forge and Ashes in Anderson’s “Seeds of America” trilogy.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Atheneum | 2008| ISBN-13: 978-1416905868
Pictures of Hollis Woods
Written by Patricia Reilly Giff
Hollis is twelve. She likes to draw. She loves to draw. It’s her life, the only life that means anything to her. Abandoned as a baby, Hollis goes from foster home to foster home until she meets Josie Cahill, an aging, eccentric artist. The relationship that grows between Hollis and Josie is told in short chapters, interspersed with Hollis’s musings on her life, life in general, art, and friendship. The closeness and intimacy of Hollis’s voice is really something unique here. This Newbery Honor is a short book with a very big canvas.
Ages 9+ | Publisher: Yearling | 2004 (Reprint)| ISBN-13: 978-0439692397
Bird Lake Moon
Written by Kevin Henkes
Henkes’ Bird Lake Moon is a small world of a book. For me, this is the one of Henkes’ stories that goes the deepest, and part of the reason, I think, is the dovetailing interplay of the boys’ voices—Mitch and Spencer alternate chapters—part is how gracefully the summer lake scene is rendered, and part is that every once in a while you will read a sentence or a phrase so simple and profound that the book hardly seems a work for only children. Which is, I guess, what all books for young readers should be: a book for every age.
Ages 9+ | Publisher: Greenwillow Books | (Reprint) 2010 | ISBN-13: 978-0061470790
The Summer of Owen Todd
Written by Tony Abbott
Publisher’s Synopsis: Owen and his best friend, Sean, are both eleven years old. They’ve lived on Cape Cod all their lives, and now that they’re a little older, they’ll finally be free to spend some time on their own. But Sean’s mother has a different idea―she hires a babysitter to look after Sean. Paul is in his twenties, and a well-liked guy from church. Paul starts doing things that just feel wrong. Because they’ve always been as close as brothers, Sean tells Owen what is going on, but no one else. What’s not certain to Owen is what he should do or how he should do it. Sean warns him not to tell a single what is happening. But if Owen doesn’t tell, could something even worse happen to Sean? This harrowing and sensitively told tale of child abuse is a must-read for anyone who might ever be called upon to help a friend in need.
Ages 10+ | Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0374305505
About the Author
TONY ABBOTT was born in Cleveland, Ohio. His father was a university professor and had an extensive library of books, which became one of his first sources of literature. When he was eight years old, his family moved to Connecticut, where he later attended the University of Connecticut. After studying both music and psychology, he found his way to English literature. After college, he travelled to Europe, returned home and found work at several bookstores and a publishing company. He has published poetry and essays and written many books for young readers aged 6 to 14, including the series The Secrets of Droon and The Copernicus Legacy, and the novels Firegirl, The Postcard, and Lunch-Box Dream. The Summer of Owen Todd appeared in October 2017, and his novel Denis Ever After will appear in Summer 2018. Tony has been on the faculty of Lesley University’s MFA in Creative Writing and is a frequent conference speaker and visitor to schools. You can follow him online at www.tonyabbottbooks.com, on Twitter @tonyabbottbooks, and on Facebook.
Tony Abbott, author of The Summer of Owen Todd, selected these ‘5 Middle Grade Favorites.’ Discover more articles on The Children’s Book Review tagged with Middle Grade Books.