If I gave stars with my book reviews, Jo Watson Hackl’s Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe would get a whole constellation. It’s the best middle grade mystery I’ve read since I discovered Sheila Turnage’s Newbery Honor Book, Three Times Lucky.
Hackl’s character, Cricket, drags you along from the first paragraph:
“Turns out, it’s easier than you might think to sneak out of town smuggling a live cricket, three pocketfuls of jerky, and two bags of half-paid-for merchandise from Thelma’s Cash ‘n’ Carry grocery store.”
And there’s the humor:
“Even at a time like this, it’s important to keep moisturized.”
Head out the door of that Mississippi store with Cricket (the human) and Charlene (the cricket). On the journey your traveling companions will enlighten you about the nature of art, self-reliance, and loyalty, and how to live with and love someone who has a mental illness.
The setting is real. The characters are believable. And there’s a little history thrown in, to boot, about this neck of the Mississippi woods.
Love this book!!!
I am delighted to see book talks on PBS, so please, public television people, take what I’m about to say as what it is, a gentle suggestion. I’m glad that the Hundred Best Books in America includes titles for kids and young adults. There were even a few that were published by authors who are still alive. But I have to ask, how old does a book have to be before it’s considered one of the best books in America?
I love Where the Red Fern Grows and Charlotte’s Web. I do, really! And I’m good with hearing adults gush about reading their childhood favorites to their children and grandchildren. But if you want to get young people involved in literacy, you need to pick books that young people would choose for themselves. The books on your list seem to have been chosen by adults.
I will vote for Harry Potter and The Outsiders and Hatchet. I won’t argue with you about your choice of Hunger Games over Collins’ Gregor, the Overlander. But can we have more recent titles? I want to see more of the books I couldn’t keep on the shelf in my Reading Lab. How about Newbery winners like The One and Only Ivan or the picture book, Last Stop on Market Street? How about a graphic novel or two, maybe something by Ursula Vernon or Dan Santat or the Holm siblings? Have you read Going Bovine by Libba Bray? Did you even consider including books of poetry? Kids love good, accessible poetry.
I hope the Great American Read isn’t a one of. I hope you come back again next year with even more books. But, please, can we let librarians, teachers, and young readers help decide what goes on the list? You might be amazed.
“All the things I choose to put in my head are what make me, me. I plan to choose wisely.” –Bob
This excellent advice comes from a middle grade novel, Bob, written by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead.
Here is my version of Bob’s advice:
Turn off the television except to watch carefully chosen content. Stay informed, not hoodwinked.
Choose to read–the dictionary, the encyclopedia, good stories, sublime poetry, how-to books. Choose wisely.
Now for the review part:
If you like a little mystery and a little magic carefully crafted by two master storytellers, choose this book.