I've been working my way through the twelve Mark Twain Readers Award nominees for 2012-2013--I want to be able to book talk these titles to upper elementary kids once summer reading starts on June 4. As I make progress through my stack of novels, I'll post some synopses of the books as well as notes about what type of readers might enjoy them.
Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea is everything that is wonderful about a school story. Mr. Terupt is the new fifth grade teacher, and the story is told from the varying perspectives and voices of several members of his class. There's Peter, the trouble-maker; Lexie, the mean girl; Jessica, the new girl; Luke, the academically-driven young boy; and a handful of other fifth graders with real voices, interesting backstories, and genuine fifth-grader problems. The story progresses through the months of the school year, beginning with everyone growing comfortable with Mr. Terupt's unique teaching style and leading up to an incident that shakes the students and shapes the rest of their fifth grade experience. So many young readers can identify with this book--there really is a character for every personality--and the frank yet tender portrayal of the difficulties in growing up makes it a stellar novel. I'll be recommending Because of Mr. Terupt to readers looking for realistic stories as well as those looking to connect with a book character.
Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs has a remarkably unique premise: when push comes to shove, it's a mystery about a murder--of a hippo. Teddy Fitzroy lives at FunJungle, the world's largest and most impressive zoo, where his parents are an animal photographer and a highly respected gorilla researcher. FunJungle has only been open for a few weeks, and it would appear mayhem has already struck: Henry the Hippo, the park's not-so-friendly mascot, has been found dead. After a rather humorously-described autopsy, the head vet determines Henry has been murdered. Luckily Teddy was spying on the autopsy, because FunJungle appears to want to cover up the murder. Teddy takes it upon himself to solve the mystery, but not without some zoo-specific dangers to his own life along the way. Teddy is a great narrator, and it is really enjoyable to tag along throughout his animal investigations. There is also plenty of gross-out humor in the novel, perfect for young male readers, that keeps the book light-hearted. I'll be recommending Belly Up to reluctant readers, especially boys, as well as readers with interests in animals.