Happy book birthday to these middle grade books making their rounds through our reviewers!
Thank you to @kidlitexchange for providing the review copies of these books. All opinions are our own.
December “Ember” and Happiness “Ness” are the best of friends until Ness dies on a freak playground accident. 📚
Ember’s loving widowed Dad leaves her with eccentric Uncle Graham the day afterward, who takes her to a strange black-and-white parallel universe behind his garden, where Ness is lonely, sad, and confused. But Graham isn’t looking to rescue Ness – he and his mysterious friend Mrs. Todd are looking to swap Ember to bring back his dead dog Betty. 📚
Spoiler alert: Despite warnings from Mrs. Todd and a dimension-jumping cat, Ember returns to the Afterward to rescue her friend. But Ness has changed, it’s too late, and the ugly-cry-inducing non-goodbye underlines that sometimes we just have to let go. 📚
THE AFTERWARDS is not a warm, fuzzy book about loss; It crushes every bereaved child’s fantasy: that your loved one isn’t really gone, and you can get them back. This book is here to tell you that you can’t; all you can do is make the rest of your life count. While it’s subtle, the reader does understand that Ember will find her way forward without her best friend. It’s a harsh message, but an honest and necessary one. 📚
Loved: – Ethnically-diverse cast of characters in the illustrations, but race and religion are never mentioned. The Afterward is black-and-white; and love and loss are bigger and more universal than humanity’s superficial boxes. – @emily_gravett (who also collaborated with Harrold on THE IMAGINARY) ‘s gorgeous four-color illustrations add to the creepy vibe. Think Maurice Sendak x Tim Burton.
– A cat helps Ember save her own life. 📚
While this book took my breath away, it’s a very heavy book, and dark/scary toward the end. Do not give it to a recently bereaved child. Absolutely give it to one who’s had time to process their loss and has the resulting heavy questions. 📚
Give to: As above, bereaved children whose heart wounds have scabbed over, fans of Neil Gaiman. 📚
THE GREAT JEFF – by Tony Abbott
(March 19th 2019 ~ Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Picture and Review by Laura @petriespicks
The second I saw this book available to review, I knew I needed to read it. Firegirl, the companion to The Great Jeff, is a book I read aloud every year with my 7th grade classes. Jeff is a character we discuss a lot in terms of motivations and traits. My students always make great inferences, but most of it is speculation. This book perfectly complements Firegirl and confirms a lot of my students’ inferences.
The Great Jeff takes place after Firegirl. Jeff has had to move from St Catherine’s School for the public school, leaving his friends behind. His mother loses her job, which spirals Jeff’s life out of control. As a teacher, this book is a great reminder of the impact trauma can have on our students’ lives. Sometimes the students who need the most love show it in the most challenging way. As a human being, this book shows us that we truly do not know what someone is experiencing unless we reach out and truly care to listen and ask. Sometimes struggle manifests in behaviors that make no sense to us. This story illustrates the two-way street nature of friendship and that anyone is capable of change, if we are big enough to forgive. This middle grade book is a perfect addition to a classroom library as it features real world issues in an age appropriate way. I can’t wait to share this companion novel with my 7th graders!
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