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Fathers, sons, and grandfathers

The bonds between a son and his father or grandfather can be strong yet complicated. The following books offer middle schoolers a glimpse into some tricky, loving family relationships.

alexander_bookedIn Kwame Alexander‘s verse novel Booked (a companion in structure and theme to his 2015 Newbery Award–winning The Crossover), eighth grader Nick Hall is quite a wordsmith, thanks largely to his linguistics-professor father. Nick would rather be shining on the soccer field, talking to a cute classmate, or playing Ping-Pong with his cool mom. He’s blindsided when his parents suddenly separate and Mom moves away, leaving him to live alone with his stern dad. Alexander understands reluctant readers deeply; here again he offers them sports action combined with spot-on portrayals of middle-school life; warm, believable family and friend dynamics; and hip, down-to-earth adult secondary characters. (Houghton, 11–14 years)

reynolds_as brave as youAt the start of Jason Reynolds’s As Brave As You, Genie Harris and his older brother Ernie find themselves far from their Brooklyn home, staying with their Grandma and Grandpop in rural Virginia while their parents (who are “maybe/possibly/probably divorcing”) figure things out in Jamaica. The novel follows Genie through a series of tragicomic blunders, minor triumphs, and many heartfelt discussions with Grandpop, who is blind and fiercely independent. A contemporary-set story in the tradition of Curtis’s The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963, with deft dialogue, Northern/Southern roots, and affecting depth. (Atheneum/Dlouhy, 11–14 years)

bruchac_talking leavesIn the nineteenth-century culture of the Tsalagi (Cherokee) nation, wives could initiate divorce by asking their husbands to leave their houses. That is precisely what Uwohali’s mother did, and his father, Sequoyah, moved out, subsequently remarrying, and working on his now-famous Cherokee syllabary. When Sequoyah returns to Uwohali’s village, he’s viewed with suspicion; thirteen-year-old Uwohali, however, sees a father he would like to know. Although the particulars of Joseph Bruchac’s Talking Leaves occur two hundred years ago, the universality of fitting into a blended family and looking for love and acceptance from a once-absent father feel strikingly contemporary. (Dial, 11–14 years)

avi_most important thingIn Avi’s The Most Important Thing: Stories About Sons, Fathers, and Grandfathers, seven short stories offer glimpses into the lives of seven middle-school boys as they navigate complex relationships with fathers and grandfathers. Divorces, abandonment, estrangement, and death figure into the plots, and the protagonists must learn to find their places in their reconfigured families. Resolutions are never pat, usually leaving protagonists with just the beginnings of a new understanding. “What is the most important thing a father can do for his son?” Be there, the stories seem to say to fathers and grandfathers. (Candlewick, 11–14 years)

From the June 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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Comments

  1. These book selections seem very interesting. Issues of paternal relationships, marital separation, and male identity with regards of boys of color is very important to address in children’s literature. Jason Reynolds and Kwame Alexander are interesting authors and I would like to read their books in the near future. I would also like to consider reading Joseph Bruchac and Avi’s books. This was an interesting book review to read.

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