Admirable Men in Three Stories about Family, Faith, and Tradition

my3books' contributing editor, and children's buyer at 57th Street Books in Hyde Park in Chicago, Angela Sherrill returns with a look at three of her favorite middle grade novels from 2009 aimed (at least primarily) boys.

2009 saw a significant number of great new middle-grade novels. The three discussed here all have a variety of male characters spanning three generations.  They have various strengths, weakness and individual characteristics which give them depth, texture and longevity.  Of the many wonderful books I read this year with great guy leads, these are my top 3. They are most excellent and highlight the wonderful world of middle-grade fiction. Interestingly, all three were written by women. 

January 2009: The year began with a hardworking and powerful debut.

The Heart of a Shepherd
by Rosanne Parry
Random House |
9780375848025 | $15.99 | Jan 2009

My sales rep touted this as one of his favorites early on when presenting the Winter list.  I had heard good things about it from other booksellers (an Indie Next Spring Kids Pick!) — a double dose of recommendations.  Unfortunately, my only galley was sitting dejectedly on the nightstand of a kid critic.  When I followed up with him about the book, he said he wasn’t going to read that one because it had a father in Iraq and looked like it was going to be too sad. I gently asked him to return the galley to me—which I NEVER do—and decided to take it home and put it in the “to be read really soon” pile.  A few weeks later, I began what was to become one of my favorite books of the year.

In The Heart of A Shepherd we meet not only a tender-hearted and perceptive lead character, but also a military father and a revered grandfather. The setting is an Oregon ranch. The characters are thoughtful and hardworking. Finally, the story was about finding your place amongst family, faith and tradition.

The Mother Daughter Book Club has a nice summary of the book here .

In can be hard to sell a book on Chicago's south side with a cowboy on the cover, but I'm going to put this one in the hands of urbanites in search of greener pastures, teachers, and young people of all backgrounds.


June 2009: The summer soared with a steam-powered first novel.

When The Whistle Blows
by Fran Cannon Slayton
Philomel |
9780399251894 | $16.99 | June 2009

I read this one just as it was releasing and couldn't have been happier with the result.  Shortly after reading this delightful debut I was lucky enough to spend the day with the author and a 2k9 event at Anderson's Bookshop.  Visit Fran's website to see a blurbs of praise, get insider information and more.

It's about trains and troubles, boys, uncles, dads, and friends, all woven into the fabric of strong family traditions. Short vignettes of Jimmy Cannon's life leave the reader wanting to know more about the characters in this West Virginia town where men live and die by the railroad. Slayton strikes a balance between the irresponsibility of boyhood, the importance of sticking together and the meaning of the phrase, "one good turn" in a sad, but gentle story of growing up in the shadow of an admirable parent.

I knew right away that this story would find a kindred spirit in Rosanne Parry's The Heart of a Shepherd, making a great gift for young boys in need of noble male role models, and all readers who know that with great heartbreak and bitterness comes the sweet hereafter of a memorable story.


September 2009: The fall lit up with a newsworthy gem.

The Last Newspaper Boy in America
by Sue Corbett
Dutton, $16.99,

It wasn't until September that this trio was complete and I finally read Sue Corbett's latest novel. There is a paperboy tradition in Wil David's family.  All the men have held the route Wil inherits on his 12th birthday for as long as anyone can remember.  When things don't go as Wil had hoped we learn a lot about journalism, perseverance and the importance of community.

Corbett has created a fun story with a strong sense of place and small town pride. You'll come to lament the loss of the paperboy and rejoice in the unique and resourceful characters. I hope a few teachers will pick this one up, finding it a please-all for both boys and girls, with nods to books and literature, science and math, art, and photography.

While the overarching theme here is journalistic ethics, you'll find a great set of admirable male characters.  From our young hero himself, to his brothers, or the fathers and grandfathers before them,  family traditions are alive and well.

The Final Word:  Read any one of these (or all three!) and rest assured that there are authors out there writing complex and admirable male characters for you and your children.

– Angela K Sherrill
57th Street Books