As we begin the New Year, it’s only fitting that we discuss titles that reflect new beginnings, endings, and new experiences. Let’s take a look at some books with a general theme of change.
For young children, Eve Bunting’s Yard Sale, illustrated by Caldecott honoree Lauren Castillo, examines the changes that must happen when a family moves. In this case, the family is moving from a large house in the suburbs to a smaller apartment in the city. Callie, the only child of the family, watches as nearly all of her family’s possessions are placed outside for a yard sale. Through the story, Callie experiences different emotions while seeing her family’s items being sold off one by one.
The storytelling is really brought to life by Castillo’s illustrations. Her watercolors are rich but muted, allowing bursts of red to carry your eye around the page. The strong outlines of the characters ground them to the page and are reminiscent of a child’s drawing, which helps strengthen the empathetic response to Callie’s thoughts and actions. This book is a wonderful choice to introduce the topic of moving, and also moving on from what we no longer need. Fans of Kevin Henkes will love Castillo’s illustrations and Bunting’s gentle text.
Change and new beginnings are popular topics for middle-grade books, so there’s a wealth of titles to choose from. A new favorite that springs to mind is The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy. This is a great title for 3rd through 5th graders, especially readers who love realistic fiction that examines change among siblings.
The lives of the four Fletcher brothers are followed over the course of one year. Sam, age 12, is the soccer star who suddenly finds himself auditioning for the school play. Jax, age 10, is caught between childhood and adolescence as he notices his friends beginning to “act cool” and notice girls. Eli, also age 10, is finally going to the gifted school, but is he really fitting in? And Frog (real name: Jeremiah), age 6, is highly imaginative and starting school for the first time.
Levy packs a lot into this book, and most of it is successful. Sports fans will enjoy the sport-centric Fletchers, and the blended multicultural family aspect (all four boys are adopted into a same-sex household) is nicely introduced. This is an entertaining, yet realistic read that is a great transition away from chapter books and into more meaty novels.
New beginnings and change are big themes among teen books as well. One of my favorite books from 2015 is Friends for Life by Andrew Norriss. This is a compelling book that all 12- to 14-year-olds should read. The story follows Francis, a budding fashion designer who meets Jessica one day on a park bench. Jessica is surprised to meet Francis, because no one has been able to see her since she died over a year ago. Jessica and Francis begin a friendship, and Francis can finally open up to someone about his love of design. As the weeks pass, a few other teens are able to see and interact with Jessica. The reader soon learns more about the mystery of Jessica’s life and death, as the relationships between the characters grow.
This sensitive novel illustrates the concepts of friendship, loneliness, love, and despair beautifully. Norriss’ fine detail of character and his positive suggestions for suicidal teens are well-placed and fit naturally within the story. This is a strong choice for parents and teens to read together.
To request any of these books, visit the Free Library’s website. You can also check out downloadable audiobooks and ebooks in the digital media section.
Yard Sale, by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Lauren Castillo, 2015, Candlewick Press
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, by Dana Alison Levy, 2014, New York: Delacorte Press
Friends for Life, byAndrew Norriss, 2015, New York: David Fickling Books/Scholastic Inc.
Christopher A. Brown is the curator for the Children’s Literature Research Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia.