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Winter isn’t coming, it’s already here! This year has been especially brutal for most of the United States, and since I love nothing more than getting cozy on the couch with a good book when the temperature drops and the wind starts to blow, I thought it only made sense to dedicate an episode to books set during the winter.
Welcome to episode three of the second season of Happy Reading, a podcast that spotlights and celebrates middle grade titles that all share a common theme. I’m Sarah Threlkeld, a current elementary school librarian, former 6th grade reading teacher, and someone who loves watching the snow pile up outside her window, but isn’t a fan of actually being in it. It has snowed twice in the Seattle area so far this winter and, while I wouldn’t mind a day or two off from school, I am definitely ready for some sunshine and blue skies.
Brian’s Winter by Gary Paulsen
I finally got around to reading Gary Paulsen’s masterpiece Hatchet a few years into my gig as a middle school teacher and, boy howdy, did it blow my mind! I’ve been meaning to read the follow up, Brian’s Winter, for years and thanks to this episode I finally devoured the adventure book in just a few sittings. In Hatchet the main character survives a summer in the Canadian wilderness and is rescued in the end (sorry for any spoilers). After that book was published Gary Paulsen received a bazillion letters from readers who wondered what would have happened to Brian if he hadn’t been rescued. Would he survive a brutal Canadian winter with no more than his wits and his trusty hatchet? If you’re curious to know the answer you’ll have to pick up a copy of Brian’s Winter. Here’s an excerpt where the reality of Brian’s situation comes hurtling at him full-force.
excerpt - pages 70-72
The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner
I always love it when a book teaches me about a topic that is completely foreign to me. Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish was a double whammy - I learned all about ice fishing and Irish dancing. As if that wasn’t cool enough, the book also brilliantly explores magical realism, long-term friendship, and the effects of addiction on families and communities. This is the kind of book that stays with you long after the last sentence. Here’s an excerpt where Charlie, the main character, is ice fishing with some neighbors and catches more than she expected.
excerpt - pages 20-23
Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus
I am always in awe of everyday people who risk their lives to protect their family, community or country. It’s even more impressive when one of those people is a teenager. Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus recounts a 14-year old Norwegian boy’s evolution from a carefree soccer-playing teenager to a daring spy who worked for Norway’s resistance movement during World War II. Over the course of five years Espen, who is based on a real person named Erling Storrusten, sacrifices friendships, his family’s safety, and his own life to weaken the Nazi’s hold on his beloved country. His story comes to a thrilling climax as Espen dares to escape his homeland through snowy mountains on a pair of skis. Here’s an excerpt where Espen is both thrilled by and anxious about completing his first delivery for the Resistance.
excerpt - pages 19-20
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
New York City is one of my favorite cities in the world, so when I come across a book that perfectly captures the energy and attitude of the Big Apple, I get pretty dang excited. Karina Yan Glaser’s debut novel The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street is one of those books. As you might surmise from the title, the book centers around the Vanderbeekers, an utterly charming family of seven that lives in a beloved brownstone on 141st street. Life is moving along swimmingly, until the parents break the news to their five children that their crotchety old landlord is evicting them in a mere five days. Oh, and it’s Christmas. Most kids would be devastated and, after shedding a few tears, start packing. Thanks goodness the Vanderbeekers are not most kids. They rally together and come up with an ingenious plan to win over the landlord. Will it work? You’ll have to read this delightful realistic fiction novel to find out. Here are the first few pages to give you a taste of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street.
excerpt - pages 1-4
The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman
The last book I’m spotlighting wasn’t even on my radar when it was released, which is a shame because it is absolutely fantastic. Every word in Delia Sherman’s The Evil Wizard Smallbone is necessary and paints a riveting picture of life in a bewitched seaside town in Maine. The book opens with Nick running away from his abusive uncle and smackdab into a snow storm, which he is completely unprepared for. He happens upon Evil Wizard Books and convinces the curmudgeonly owner to let him stay for the night, having no idea that he’ll end up staying there for months, cleaning the bookstore, tending to some farm animals and secretly learning magic. Nick will also encounter a pack of angry bikers that morph into werewolves and townspeople who are harboring a huge secret. Whether you love fantasy or not, I bet you will find The Evil Wizard Smallbone to be absolutely magical and you won’t be able to put it down. Here’s the scene where Nick is caught in the snowstorm that drives him towards the evil wizard’s bookshop.
excerpt - pages 5-10
Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Happy Reading! I hope hearing about those wonderful middle grade books didn’t leave you feeling too cold and that you discovered at least one or two new titles for your TBR list. I’d love to hear about your favorite wintertime books! You can find me on Twitter at @WordNerd153 and at the podcast’s website at happyrdng.blogspot.com. Transcripts of all the episodes are also on the website. If you enjoy this podcast, I would adore you forever if you posted a review on iTunes. Thanks again for listening and happy reading!