This year there are some wonderful new books for middle grade readers. The following selections feature boys as the main characters, but will appeal to both boys and girls. Any of these titles would be great for a book club selection.
The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt is set in Long Island in the 1960's, against the backdrop of the Viet Nam war. The story is about Holling Hoodwood, a seventh grade boy who is convinced his teacher hates him. Every Wednesday afternoon, the Catholic kids leave early to go to Catechism, and the Jewish kids go to Hebrew school. Holling is the only Presbyterian at school, which leaves him alone with his teacher every Wednesday afternoon. Mrs. Baker teaches him about Shakespeare, and reluctantly he comes to trust her as a friend. Holling's father is only concerned about his architecture business, and shows little sensitivity to Holling or his sister. Despite some serious themes, there is a lot of humor as Holling manages to get himself into terrible trouble, but always manages to survive.
The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman is a tribute to the children who lost their lives during the Holocaust in World War II. The story brings to life an important part history through the character of Avrom the dybbuk, a spirit of a young boy who takes over the life of Great Freddie, a ventriloquist. At first Freddie is frightened, than annoyed that this dybbuk is interfering in his life. A warm, touching, and surprisingly humorous relationship develops between the two characters as Freddie learns more about Avrom and the losses he has suffered. They work together to bring justice to the evil Nazi who killed Avrom's sister, and ultimately find closure for Avrom and Freddie.
Ethan Suspended by Pamela Ehrenberg is a mutli-layered novel about a boy who moves in with his frugal grandparent in Washington, DC after he is suspended from school. Urban life is a challenge for Ethan. In his new school, he is the only Caucasian student. Ethan finds his place playing the oboe in the school jazz band. As he begins to build a new life, he must also come to terms with the reason for his suspension, and the emotional turmoil resulting from his parents divorce. Ethan also learns a great deal about the civil rights movement, and its impact on his family.