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.
One of the books that I've had the opportunity to read is Maxi's Secrets by Lynn Plourde. I absolutely loved the book. It's an emotional book, but I think that it has so much to offer all readers, especially middle grade students.
The reader is told right up front: "Let's get this part over with - it's no secret. My dog, Maxi, dies."
But even with that blunt warning, I plunged ahead into the book. And even though I sat on the sofa and bawled my eyes out, I have to say that this book is just awesome!
Book lovers, even those with past experience reading Sounder, Old Yeller, and many others, dive into these books because the relationship we have with our pets is so universal. We know that we're about to share a special experience with the author, the characters in the story, and those around us. Many people, including young readers, will relate to Timminy's story, and hopefully be able to relate to each other better, after reading this.
This middle grade novel tells the story of Timminy, a fifth grader who is starting middle school in a new town. Things are tough for Timminy: his dad is the Assistant Principal of his new school, he doesn't know anyone, and he's very self-conscious about his small size. His parents let him get a dog to make him feel better.
Maxi is big, furry, and full of boundless energy. The family also discovers the dog is deaf. While the dog presents a lot of challenges to Timminy, she also helps him meet new friends, like Abby. Abby, his next-door neighbor, is blind. She's determined not to be held back from all that she wants out of life.
The character development is awesome in this book. All of the characters, especially Timminy, learn to rethink how they label people. They also find ways to trust each other and rise above their circumstances and challenges. This is so important in an increasingly angry world in which we want young people to learn how to empathize with others that face different challenges.
As Timminy learns these lessons, so does the reader. At the end of each chapter, there is a lesson; fifty one of them altogether. I love this, because it lends itself so well to our study of theme and summarization in fourth and fifth grade. These lessons are also great messages: "Secret #1: You can learn a lot from a dog you love."
I'm really anxious to share this with my students. I know this will be an important book in my classroom library.
But, beware: Secret #52: Even when you're told up front something sad happens, you still CRY!!! So, have tissues handy!
Hardcover, 272 pages
Expected publication: August 23rd 2016 by Nancy Paulsen Books