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


my3books: Defying Time and Space

Here's the first set of picks from independent bookseller, and new my3books contributor, Angela Sherrill.  Angela is the children's book buyer at 57th Street Books in Hyde Park, and one of the most discerning readers of YA and teen fiction I've met. The tall bookshelf above her desk looms with a literal wall of soon-to-be-published ARCs. All of the shelves at 57th Street Books are liberally garnished with shelf talkers by Angela and her fellow booksellers, but what leaps to the eye in the YA section are all the reviews written by young customers who've been recruited to read and comment on books new and old.

Join me in welcoming Angela to the chorus of bookseller voices on my3books.

The classic reference: A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeline L’Engle
Square Fish | 9780312367541| $6.99 | 1962

Enough has been written on L’Engle’s beloved, honored, and banned work that I’m sure my contribution to this pulsating dialogue of essays, opinions and debate is neither new nor noteworthy.

I can attest that teens, when not distracted by glitzy book jackets, are still finding L’Engle’s work valuable. 57th Street Books' Teen Critic Jennifer G., upon reviewing the 2008 publication of Joys of Love wrote, “... like all of Ms. L’Engle’s other books, [Joys of Love] is incredible.” Agreed.


The debut novel: First Light
by Rebecca Stead
Yearling Books | 9780440422228 | $6.99 |2008

I read this book after discovering Stead’s upcoming book [see below] and had to go back for more. This book is now my “go to” recommendation for fans of The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau. Solid and engaging in its own right, I can’t stop comparing the two underground worlds and the survival dilemmas they present. The glacial setting and ingenuity of the young female protagonist in First Light also reminds me of the chills and suspense I felt when reading Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George. This book as delightfully made it’s way onto the 2010 Caudill nomination list, which means we’ll soon have the opinions of young readers!


The buzz book: When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books/Random House | 9780385737425 | $15.99 | July 2009

As a wonderfully intriguing story of the life and times of a 6th grade girl unfolds, mysterious time travel elements unravel in an intricate and beautifully threaded plot. Relationship complexities beyond what is normally expected in children’s literature bring immense wisdom to this most engaging and thoughtful story. To top it off, Stead's superbly careful writing makes this one you'll want to share with every reader you know.

Miranda, our young guide in Stead’s fascinating story, is gently obsessed with A Wrinkle in Time. I expect When You Reach Me to be loved and honored (but hopefully not banned), just as its classic reference, because it is truly an incredible book.

If you’re still not convinced this one’s a winner, check out Elizabeth Bird’s School Library Journal review.

In short, my expectations for this one are high. It’s sure to be one of best books of the year and I can’t wait for it to hit my display table in July. I won’t be holding my breath to see how it does on it’s own, I’ll be sending it out the door in the hands of customers 11 & up. I’ll especially be looking out for mothers musing about fond memories of A Wrinkle In Time, young boys lauding the genius of Louis Sachar’s Holes and all appreciators of Ingrid Law’s Savvy.

Angela K Sherrill
57th Street Books, Chicago


My3Books: three picks from Candlewick Press' Fall 2009 catalog

I wanted to kick off this series with three books that stunned me from page one. So, of course, off to Candlewick Press we go!

Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamilloEli The Good by Silas HouseStorm In The Barn by Matt Phelan

Kate DiCamillo’s “The Magician’s Elephant
($16.99, 9780763644109, Sept 2009)
Silas House’s “Eli The Good

($16.99, 9780763643416, Sept 2009)
Matt Phelan’s “The Storm in the Barn
($24.99, 9780763636180, Sept 2009)

It feels a bit odd to treat Kate DiCamillo like an author who needs to be broken out after the last few years - Desperaux? Winn-Dixie? Mercy Watson? and yep, Edward Tulane, too. Her characters are household names in the households I spend time in.

But I’m one of those fans who’ll tell you that I didn’t care as much for Edward Tulane as those earlier blockbuster books. It felt like DiCamillo was just trying so hard to pack a lot of magical message into one book, and I got distracted watching the strings moving the puppets on the stage, so to speak.

But when I got the manuscript for Magician’s Elephant, I dove in with a cup of coffee and a free morning. I’m here to tell you, I didn’t need the whole morning. It’s just 200 or so pages with beautiful full-page illustrations scattered throughout from Yoko Tanaka and I blew through it.

I was elated to discover that DiCamillo still has her love of language - this is a book that was meant to be read aloud to a group of listeners - and that language is harnessed to a story that is charming in its magical simplicity: a boy, a missing sister, a magician, an elephant, a city in need of rain, a plot that brings all the actors together.


Silas House has published three novels for adults, and Eli The Good is his first novel for young readers. A coming-of-age novel in the most literal sense possible, it’s the story of Eli Book, ten years old in the Summer of the Bicentennial, 1976. His dad is a Vietnam Veteran, his older sister is just beginning her own rebellion, and his former war-protesting aunt has just come to live with them.

The novel is filled with great music references - I was just a bit younger at the time than Eli is during that Summer of ‘76 and it seemed like the radio was always on somewhere.

Eli is a writer-in-training - he watches, he listens, he snoops, he gets it down on paper - and those skills are going to help him make sense of the changes taking place all around him in his family. It’s possible that fans of literature for young readers have finally found the true heir to Harriet The Spy.


When I talk about Matt Phelan with my buyers and booksellers, I always start by mentioning that he did the cover and incidental art in Susan Patron’s Newbery Medal-winning novel The Higher Power of Lucky. But my favorite work from him to date has been his illustrations for Betty Birney’s The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs, a novel set in the 1920s in a small town in the middle of Missouri.

After that book, I felt right at home as I started reading Matt’s solo graphic novel, The Storm In The Barn, a Dust Bowl magic realist story - how one young boy’s discovery on a neighboring farm might help bring rain to the town’s dusty crops.

»> Want a downloadable PDF of the Fall 2009 Candlewick Press catalog? You got it.
»> Want to be blown away by the sheer wonder of Candlewick’s backlist? The catalog elves at Candlewick put together their first epic, comprehensive backlist catalog in years.

UPDATED (06/12/09): I'm adding a (probably unnecessary) disclaimer to entries that feature books that are brought out by publishers that I represent. Of course, the whole idea behind this blog is to talk about books you should be buying or reading, so just take it as a given that in the back of my mind, it has been my secret plan all along to make you want to buy these books. Preferably from an independent bookseller.