Rebecca Stead. Liar and Spy. Wendy Lamb Books, 2012. 180pg. Grades 2 – 6. Realistic fiction. (Set in the 21st century/Mystery). Bluebonnet Nominee 2014-2015.
Georges (pronounced without the ‘s’ like Georges Seraut) is bullied at school. His former best friend ditched him for the popular table at lunch and he is dealing with some big changes at home. His dad lost his job and his family had to move from a house with a loft and a fire escape (every kid’s dream) to an apartment with a Mom who now works all the time. Georges joins home schooled Safer’s Spy Club. He also meets Safer’s quirky younger sister, Candy, and family. Safer and Georges investigate the mysterious Mr. X. As the investigation heats up, Georges finds out he has fears he never knew. The novel has a pretty big plot twist at the end. The reader comes to find out the Georges is a pretty unreliable narrator, who befriends another unreliable narrator. Stead’s writing is straightforward, littered with hints about the multiple plot twists. Children will delight at looking for the clues and figuring out what is really going on with Georges at school, with his family and what is actually going on with Safer’s Spy Club. Sometimes it is hard to tell if Georges is a female or male protagonist, but besides that quirk, Stead does a good job of developing characters. Stead captures childhood at its best and at its worst. This is a book that children will enjoy for years to come.
Jack Gantos. Dead End in Norvelt. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. 341pg. Grades 4 – 7. Realistic Fiction (Set in 1962). Newbery Winner.
Norvelt, so named after Eleanor Roosevelt, is a sleepy town where everyone knows everyone’s business. This is not always easy for young Jack Gantos, whose nose bleeds at the least bit of provocation and at the most inopportune times. It looks like the summer is going to pass Jack by. He is grounded for the entire summer after he accidentally fires his dad’s Japanese shotgun and mows down his mother’s cornfield (which his dad told him to do!). The only time he is allowed out of house it to help old Miss Volker write obituaries. Surprisingly, Jack enjoys helping with obits even before he starts to notice that something fishy going on in Norvelt. Norvelt’s elderly are dropping like flies, which eventually garners the notice of the police. As the mystery unfolds, Jack meets up with the Undertaker’s daughter and sees a group of Hell’s Angels put a curse on the town. Even with being grounded, this turns out to be a pretty interesting summer for Jack. Gantos writes with sarcastic humor about small town life that is dying out. All of the characters have their own voice (you immediately get to know Jack and his family) and are well developed. Jack’s idiosyncrasies, his bloody nose, the multiple deaths, and the book’s mystery will pull kids in to the story. This is a complicated book, but one that will entertain readers and is fully deserving of the Newbery Award.