~posted by Diane
There is a memorable last scene in the movie Hope and Glory when the school blows up, thanks to German bombs in WWII. The moment of jubilation and absolute glee when the little boy knows there is no school to go to is not unlike that second when the last bell rings, dismissing kids for summer vacation. It’s freedom from school, liberation from the grind, anticipation of the endless summer—all rolled into one delicious present.The very definition of pure joy is when that last school day finally ends.
Children’s novels that also mirror those exultations come to mind, when it’s just great to be a kid. Some are school stories, some are summer stories but all are satisfying reads for upper elementary grades that kids can identify with immediately.
The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt is a gem—hilarious, tender, realistic storytelling at its best. It evolves around the life and times of an 11-year-old Presbyterian boy, who cannot be excused for religious classes and is stuck with his teacher, who gradually wins him over to Shakespeare but not before a lot of crazy antics ensue.
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall transports the reader to summer in the Berkshire Mountains of New England with a family of four girls, ages 4 to 12, who thoroughly enjoy the long, warm days of summer with their widowed father, a new friend and his dog. Deftly created characters makes the story one that lingers like sunshine in the reader’s mind.
Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos has won acclaim for its heart. Twelve-year-old Jackie starts the summer in Pennsylvania grounded for accidentally discharging his father’s war rifle and is given a reprieve—only to help his neighbor type out her obituaries for the town paper. What else can go wrong?
Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time by Lisa Yee will be immediately identifiable to students who ace sports but fail English. Stanford must skip coveted basketball camp to be tutored by none other than his nemesis Millicent Min, girl genius. Stanford proves to be a kid with lots of depth and hidden talents, and lots of drama within the Wong family keeps the reader engaged as well.
Miss Spitfire by Sarah Elizabeth Miller tells the story of Helen Keller, who had school brought to her in the form of teacher, Annie Sullivan. The marvelous breakthrough that has been documented in biographies and film is even more miraculous in this novel as the author has described with exacting detail the day to day ordeal that Annie and Helen endured for a whole month together.
If Paperboy by Vince Vawter begins to read like memoir, the author explains in the afterword that it is his story as a stutterer that informs his main character, Victor. Taking over a friend’s paper route in the summer of 1959 in Memphis, shy and reclusive Victor is forced to speak up. The process of speaking, listening, and observing opens up his neighborhood in surprising ways. The reader cheers him on as we see him grow up before our very eyes.
All these stories of have a common theme of hope and glory infused throughout their telling. The characters are mostly unforgettable and will make these long, lazy summer days of reading a pleasure.