If the rest of the 2012 books I read are anything like the first three of the year, it's going to be a banner year for kids' books! My first 3 reads were The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Wonder by R.J. Palacio and The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis.
I was made aware of The One and Only Ivan when Michael Grant visited Bailey and told us his wife was working on another free verse book about a gorilla and an elephant. At the time I was a bit confused by the concept, but when it showed up on the book fair shelves in February I had to read it. I wasn't disappointed. Told in free verse through the eyes of a shopping mall gorilla, The One and Only Ivan is one of those books you love immediately. Ivan's voice is so strong and human that the reader can't help but feel sorry for him and his situation. Ivan has dreams of seeing the outside world that he has watched on the TV in his cage and heard of from his friend Stella the retired circus elephant. When a new baby elephant, Ruby, is introduced to his mall world, Ivan makes a promise he must keep. Amazing!
My second read was Wonder by R.J. Palacio which came recommended by...well...EVERYBODY! As much as this one has been written about I really don't need to give any sort of summary, but just like Ivan, it will make you sad and happy with every turn of the page. Auggie is such a strong character facing adversity each time he leaves his home that the reader can't help but cheer for him most of the time. However, R.J. Palacio makes him human by giving him flaws. There were times when Auggie felt sorry for himself, deservedly so, but I still got frustrated and thought, "Come on Auggie, you're better than that!" The different perspectives of Auggie make for a read that made my opinions of the people around Auggie change with each chapter. If I was still in the classroom this would be my first read aloud of the year. The discussions about accepting people for who they are, regardless of their shortcomings would be so valuable to setting the tone that it would be time well spent.
Finally, I read The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis. I'm a huge fan of Bud Not Buddy, one of my favorite Newbery winners so I had to read this one. Curtis takes a minor character, Deza Malone, a smart young lady growing up in Great Depression Michigan and develops her and her family by telling of their survival. Deza is proud of her intelligence and doesn't want anything to get in the way of her education. Her parents and older brother are proud of her too and know that she is capable of great things. However, the Great Depression had a way of getting in the way of dreams and the Malone family is no exception to this rule. Out of work, Mr. Malone sees the only way to make things better is for him to leave the family and look for work. Due to a traumatic experience on a fishing trip, his judgement isn't very clear and the family is left in worse circumstances than before and Deza must put her plans on hold. As always, Christopher Paul Curtis mixes humor, compassion and wonderful characters to tell an engaging story.
All three stories have strong main characters that require the reader to cheer them on and hope for the best all the time knowing that things will get tough before they get better. Any of these will make excellent Grand Discussion books for next year but I'm afraid to commit because I can't wait to see what else 2012 will have to offer!