As they learn more about themselves, older elementary-age kids find out the meaning of family—those they were born into as well as those they make. This spirit of self-explorationis reflected in several new novels for 8- to 12-year-olds. Philip Pullman’s The Scarecrow and His Servant (Knopf) recounts a wayward scarecrow’s journey home with an orphan boy after the bumbling yet endearing hero comes to life during a thunderstorm. Birdwing (Arthur A. Levine), by Rafe Martin, reinterprets a Grimm Brothers fairy tale. The youngest of seven brothers, Ardwin is human except for the swan feathers where his left arm should be; although he aches to be “whole,” when he discovers a plan to replace the wing, he realizes that straddling two worlds is a priceless gift.
Ten-year-old Du also finds himself bridging two worlds in The Trouble Begins (Delacorte), by Linda Himelblau. While the rest of the Nguyen clan emigrated to California when he was an infant, Du stayed behind with his grandmother in a Vietnamese refugee camp. Now, meeting them for the first time, Du isn’t sure how to deal with his bossy siblings and hard-to-please father. Dom, on the other hand, doesn’t have anyone waiting for him on the other side in The King of Mulberry Street (Wendy Lamb). He traveled from Italy to New York City as a stowaway, thinking that his Mamma would accompany him. Based on her own family’s history, Donna Jo Napoli’s book is a fictional account of immigrant kids starting businesses, avoiding villains, and making new lives in late-1800s America.
With his parents away and summer camp unexpectedly cancelled, another Italian kid unexpectedly finds himself in present-day New York, though Nicholas Borelli II only came from as far away as the suburbs. At the home of his grandmother, Tutti, and Uncle Frankie in Brooklyn, he learns more than just what it means to be a “goomba” in Nicky Deuce: Welcome to the Family (Delacorte), by The Sopranos alumnus Steven Schirripa and Charles Fleming. Down the coast, in Florida, Sylvia moves in with Miz Lula Maye, her best friend and great-grandmother, right before the start of 5th grade. Sometimey Friend (Carolrhoda), by Pansie Hart Flood, picks up the story as Sylvia learns the value of her extended family.
In Chicken Boy (Atheneum), Tobin has more kin than he knows what to do with, especially because their collective reputation as troublemakers precedes the youngest sibling. It’s been five years since his mom’s death, and the family has splintered to the breaking point. But Tobin finds that even his brothers and sisters have something worthwhile to offer in Frances O’Roark Dowell’s book. And The Secret Pony (Sono Nis/Orca), by Julie White, describes the lengths to which young Kirsty will go to get her heart’s desire, which she hopes will make up for the new home and school she’s had to adjust to since her parents’ divorce. In the process, she and her mother both learn that sometimes stubbornness is the only thing standing in the way of family.
A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 2005 edition of Teacher as KIDSBOOKS