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Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

06th February 2012

I loved LaFleur’s debut novel, Love, Aubrey and her second novel, Eight Keys was just as good. Elise has lived with her aunt and uncle ever since her father died when she was 3. She loves her aunt and uncle, and spends much of her time playing with her best friend named Franklin. But now that Elise is turning 12 and entering middle school, her safe, comfortable life seems to be changing. Suddenly, “playing” is no longer the cool thing to do, a 6th grade bully is picking on her, homework is piling up, and Elise begins to take out her frustration on the one friend who loves her as she is, Franklin. One day, Elise discovers a key in the barn with her name on it. Looking for answers, she takes the key and unlocks a door that gives her back the past, while at the same time, helping her to begin moving forward.

This is an excellent book for 5th-7th grade girls. Elise’s story is honest and real. LaFleur deals with the realities of friendship and middle school without exaggeration. And although Elise must find her own answers, she is surrounded by loving adults as well.

I just love Ann Martin, and this book made me love her even more. She has written a fantastic story about sisters and family. Pearl is the younger, 4th grade sister to middle school age Lexie. Pearl tries hard (usually) but just can’t understand why Lexie acts the way she does. When the girls’ grandpa comes to live with them in their cozy apartment, the girls are forced to share a room. Pearl is thrilled with the chance to observed Lexie up close. Now, just maybe, she can figure out her big sister once and for all!

Older fans of Beezus and Ramona books will love this sweet, but realistic, look at the complicated relationship between big and little sisters. A perfect book for 3rd-6th grade girls.

When Jamie’s father leaves their family, and his aunt Saphy has an accident that leaves her needing a caretaker, Jamie and his mom move to northern Michigan to live with, and care for, his aunt. Suffering from a head injury, Aunt Saphy can’t remember anything day to day. Jamie has a dark secret that he’d love to forget, but he can’t. With the help of a new friend, Audrey, Jamie sets out to help his aunt, but ends up finding answers of his own.

This book was phenomenal. Weeks has woven together Jamie’s and his aunt Saphy’s stories in a way that reminds me of Gary Schmidt’s books.While not as rich in historical detail as Schmidt, Weeks develops her characters and reveals the plot at just the right pace. I also love how she strikes the perfect balance of Jamie being alone with his secret, without making all of the adults in his life completely incompetent. Highly recommended for readers of all ages.

Because the family is running out of money, Rachel, her siblings and her Pop must move from their New York apartment to an abandoned farm upstate. When they get there, Rachel’s Pop discovers that a promised job is no longer his, and so he must leave the siblings on their own for several months to go find work. Rachel and her younger brother and sister are on their own, determined to prove to their Pop that they can care for the family’s new farm. If you love historical, survive against the odds, fiction as I do, you’ll enjoy this book. It’s a perfect choice for upper elementary and middle school girls.

Erik’s parents deploy to Iraq, leaving him to go live with his Oma and Big Darrell on the prairies of North Dakota. Angry, lonely and feeling unwanted, Erik rescues a dog, names him Quill and claims the dog as his own. When the dog’s owner turns up, Erik takes to the prairie, confident that he and Quill together can make a life for themselves on the prairie.

Middle grade readers, both boys and girls, will love this book. Erik’s independence, his love for Quill and his journey on the prairie will fuel the imaginations of young readers. What I liked about the book is that in the end, Erik discovers that there is more to the adults in his life than he first realized. His parents and grandparents aren’t just labelled as “the bad guys” and kept that way. Erik is allowed to get to know them and appreciate them for who they are. This is a similar, but easier to read, tale to My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, one of my personal classics.

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