Caleb and Kit by Beth Vrabel

Caleb and Kit

Beth Vrabel, Author

Running Press, Fiction, Sep. 12, 2017

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Friendship, Cystic Fibrosis, Disability, Divorce

Opening: Kit said we were destined to meet, but I really was just going for a walk.

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Caleb is shorter, frailer, and more protected than most kids his age. That’s because he has cystic fibrosis, a diagnosis meaning his lungs fill with mucus and he has a shortened lifespan. Caleb tries not to let his disorder define him, but it can be hard with an overprotective mom and a perfect big brother.

Then Caleb meets Kit — a vibrant, independent, and free girl — and his world changes instantly. Kit reads Caleb’s palm and tells him they are destined to become friends. She calls birds down from the sky and turns every day into an adventure. Her magic is contagious, making Caleb question the rules and order in his life. But being Kit’s friend means embracing deception and danger, and soon Caleb will have to decide if his friendship with Kit is really what is best for him–or her.

Why I like this book:

Beth Vrabel has beautifully crafted a sensitive, compelling and heartwarming novel about Caleb, who happens to have cystic fibrosis. Vrabel strikes a nice balance between Caleb desperately wanting to live a normal life and his living with a serious illness. The narrative is written in first person and gives the reader deep insight into Caleb’s world. It is a beautiful story of self-discovery and vulnerability.

The woodland setting is rich and visual. The plot is multi-layered, courageous and complicated. The pacing is fast, engaging and keeps readers turning pages. The story is as captivating and creative as it is heartbreaking.

The characters are authentic, colorful and carefully developed. Caleb is a determined teen who defies his parent’s over-protectiveness, skips summer camp, and strikes up a relationship with Kit, a spirited teen who creates a fantasy world to avoid dealing with her own real-life problems. Their great adventure is both magical and appealing to Caleb at first, but he begins to see potential dangers. It is a powerful story of friendship, where Caleb is challenged to make decisions that may save more than one life.

It’s important for kids to see themselves in books and there are few novels published for youth with cystic fibrosis (CF) and their families and friends. The story gives readers a glimpse into Caleb’s daily routine that includes taking enzymes before meals to help him digest food, the large amounts of food he must consume, nebulizer medications that help him breathe more easily, and a compression vest to loosen mucous in his lungs. There are trips to the ER and hospital stays when he develops a lung infection. His life with CF is realistic, but doesn’t take over the story.

Resources: I recently learned that cystic fibrosis is called a “rare” disease because there aren’t enough individuals with CF to meet the magic number for major medical research funding. Sad. To learn more about cystic fibrosis visit their website. This book would pair nicely with The Baking Life of Amelie Day (MG) by Vanessa Curtis, and Changing Fate (YA) by Michelle Merrill.

For the next few months Greg Pattridge will be hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Thank you Greg for keeping MMGM active while author Shannon Messenger is on tour promoting her sixth book, Nightfall, in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, which was released November 7.

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War I Finally Won

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Author

Dial Books for Young Readers, Historical Fiction, Oct. 3, 2017

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes: Overcoming a disability, WW II, Great Britain, Bombings, Rationing, Family relationships, Prejudice

Book Jacket Synopsis: When 11-year-old Ada’s clubfoot has been fixed at last, and she knows now that she’s not what her mother said she was — damaged and deranged. But soon Ada learns that she’s not a daughter anymore either. Who is she now?

World War II rages on, and Ada and her brother move with their guardian, Susan, into a cottage with the iron-faced Lady Thorton and her daughter. Life in the crowded home is tense. Then Ruth moves in. Ruth a Jewish girl from Germany.  A German? Could Ruth be a spy?

As the fallout from war intensifies, calamity creeps closer, and life during wartime grows even more complicated. Who will Ada decide to be? How can she keep fighting? And who will she struggle to save?

Ada’s first story, The War that Saved My Life, was a #1 New York Times bestseller and won a Newbery Honor, the Schneider Family Book Award, and the Josette Frank Award, in addition to appearing on multiple best-of-the-year lists. The War I Finally Won continues Ada’s journey of family, faith, and identity, showing us that real freedom is not just the ability to choose, but the courage to make the right choice.

Why I like this book:

Fans of The War that Saved My Life, will be thrilled with Bradley’s captivating and satisfying sequel. The setting, the characters, the plot and the imagery are beautifully intertwined and create and extraordinary experience of how WW II changed British family life amidst the blackouts, midnight fire-watching, air raids, bombings, rationing and loss.

The narrative is in Ada’s voice. She is smart and resourceful, strong-willed and spirited, like the horses she trains. Ada continues her journey of triumph over the demons of her past, learns to trust her guardian, Susan, and discovers a new and stronger inner identity.  There are new experiences, things to learn and healing. Her brother Jamie happily accepts Susan as “mum” and all of her affection.

Lady Thorton is aristocratic and an unlikely character who helps Ada face her past. But my favorite relationship is Ada’s interaction with Ruth, a Jewish girl who escapes Germany and moves into the cottage to study higher mathematics with Susan. She faces a lot of discrimination, especially from Lady Thorton and other adults. Ada stands up for Ruth, who ends up playing an important role in the war.

The plot is riveting and full of tension.  Bradley’s pacing will keep readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. It is a story that will stay with you because of the depth and the profoundly human characters.

This is an excellent discussion book for teachers to use with middle grade students. The author put a lot of research into this novel, so make sure you read her notes at the end about the historical facts woven into the story. You can learn more at Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s website.

For the next few months Greg Pattridge will be hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Thank you Greg for keeping MMGM active while author Shannon Messenger is on tour promoting her sixth book, Nightfall, in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, which will be released November 7.