firefly hollow August 24

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Reading Through My Book Gap: Maybe I Do Like Books With Animal Characters by Jillian Heise

We all have them. Those areas in our reading lives that we avoid. Those elements in a book that make us cringe away. Those “book gaps” we discover when we look at trends in our reading. A feeling, as one of my 8th graders once said, “That’s just not my genre.” For some people is historical fiction, for some it’s books with maps in the front, for others it might be unpronounceable character names, for yet others it may be romance books. Well, my (previously) declared type of books I stayed away from was books with animals as characters.  

 

I’m not sure why. I mean, I loved Charlotte’s Web as a child. I fell in love with Ivan, Stella, Ruby, and Bob along with everyone else, and have often said The One and Only Ivan is the book I think every human should read. But I still clung to the idea that I didn’t like books with animal characters, so my preferences would lead me to avoid those middle grades books that had talking animals in them.

charlotte ivan

I should’ve known better. Have you ever had a student like that, or known another adult for that matter, who claims to really dislike something, but hasn’t given it a try recently? There was no reason for my hating on books with animals as main characters. In fact, really should stop calling them out in my head and perpetuating that bias. But this year these two books changed my views because they are so well written and I was drawn to the (yes, talking animal) characters.

 

wild ones cover

The Wild Ones

by C. Alexander London, Philomel Books, Penguin Random House, 8/25/2015

 

My thoughts: These characters are endearing, varied, and entertaining. The setting and world building is phenomenal and humorously detailed. The story has gravitas and keeps the plot moving with adventure and twists to keep the reader turning pages. It’s a fun read with enough excitement to keep intermediate grades kids hooked and has subtle messages and lessons from characters who the reader cares about that make it an instant classic.

 

Alex London and his editor, Jill Santopolo, embracing the animal characters by wearing Kit & Eenie ears.

Alex London and his editor, Jill Santopolo, embracing the animal characters by wearing Kit & Eenie ears.

 

firefly hollow

Firefly Hollow

by Alison McGhee, illustrations by Christopher Denise, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster, 8/18/2015

My thoughts: An enchanting story of friendship, following dreams, and reaching beyond limits others put on you. Endearing characters and writing, combined with a quietly adventurous plot, create a story that warms the heart and leaves the reader hopeful.

 

Some of the interior artwork from the book with the human and animal characters.

Some of the interior artwork from the book with the human and animal characters.

 

These are the ones that have gotten me past my biases. They have become my two favorite middle grades books of this year so far, and I would have missed them because I thought I disliked this type of book, but apparently I just needed to give it a try. Who knew? (Apparently everyone else who reads animal character books!)

 

A reminder to always believe in the magic, and to be brave in the face of the something you think will scare you.

A reminder to always believe in the magic, and to be brave in the face of the something you think will scare you.

 

Do you have book gap areas to face? Share in the comments and maybe others can give you recommendations of titles that might help you read through those biases.

 

Jillian Heise is a National Board Certified middle school language arts teacher allowing her to discuss thoughts about books with real teen readers every day of the school year…as part of her job. Her 7th & 8th graders  are the reason she pushes herself to read through her book gaps, so she always has just the right book to recommend to the right reader at the right time. You can find her online at Heise Reads & Recommends, Heise Teaches & Writes, or on Twitter @heisereads where she is always happy to recommend a book to any reader in need.