I am participating in a group of Twitter friends that are reading, sharing and responding to recent middle grade novels. Hopefully, we will be able to find books that will excite the young readers in our classrooms and help us to teach important literacy skills and concepts in the coming year. Our group's handle is #BookRelays if you would like to see what we're reading and how we respond to these books.
It truly is an awesome experience to be able to read and share with other enthusiastic teachers these books that I know will be able to help us help kids. Up until now, I would read books by myself during the summer and then by the time I got back to school in August, I would forget to talk to others about them.
To help us out, Monika Schroeder very generously donated an ARC of her upcoming middle grade novel, Be Light Like A Bird for us to read, discuss, and review. I really enjoyed reading this novel. The book tells the story of Wren, a twelve-year-old who is having a difficult time coming to terms with the sudden death of her father. Wren hasn't had closure because her father dies in a plane crash over the Atlantic Ocean and his body was never recovered.
Before Wren has even had the chance to grieve, her mother packs everything they own into the car and they're leaving Atlanta for good. After a few false starts in towns along the highway, Wren and her mom settle into a town in the upper peninsula of Michigan. It is in the town of Pyramid that Wren has a chance to sort things out, let go of the hurt, and learn what really makes a family.
The author does a terrific job telling this story from Wren's point of view. This will help the students in my class relate to these characters, because the author has tapped into the turbulent emotions and energy of the adolescents for whom she is writing. Students will also be able to relate to the issues of peer pressure, bullying, and the everyday pressures kids today face:
"Being the new girl at school was hard. Not that I used to have a lot of friends back home. Fitting in at school had been hard for me even before Dad died. I had never hung out with the popular crowd, and I didn't have a best friend. It was more that I tried hanging out with different girls, rather than just one group, but it never came easy to me."
Because bird-watching had been a special hobby that Wren shared with her father, she found comfort spending time sitting by herself at a nearby pond with her father's binoculars and her bird-watching journal. Through this activity, she makes a new friend and gets swept up in a local controversy when she finds out that the expansion of the landfill will require the draining of the pond.
The story that Monica Schroeder tells has several good messages kids can take away. Printed on the inside of the bird journal Wren's father had given her were these words: "Be light like a bird, not like a feather." (a quote by Paul Valery):
"When Dad had given the journal to me, I'd asked him what that meant. He'd said, "It means you don't want to just float around in life like a feather. You want to determine your own direction - fly and soar like a bird."
Later on, Wren is listening to the song, "Anthem" by Leonard Cohen and it has deep meaning for her:
"I relaxed as Iistened. It sounded as if he was performing a slow poem to music. He spoke the words more than he sang them. There was this pain in his voice, but I found it soothing. And I loved the refrain:
Ring the bell that still can ring
Ring the bell that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in."
I like this book a lot. I plan to get a copy of it for my classroom library. I think it's important to have books like this, especially for kids who are struggling to cope with the death of a parent or loved one. And for those who haven't experienced a loss like this, it might help them have more empathy towards someone who has.
Hardcover, 240 pages
Expected publication: September 1st 2016 by Capstone Young Readers