My nephew is in his last year of Middle School, and his mother says he is reading constantly. He has a continued fixation on 20th Century history, so I sought out some books I thought he might not have been exposed to for his Christmas presents. There is a wealth of excellent options these days, so I had to narrow down my choices.
My first selection was Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac. This novel follows the story of Ned Begay, beginning with his childhood as he is sent from a Navajo reservation to a white church school to be reeducated. Eventually he joins the service at the age of 16 to be a ‘code talker.’ During World War II, young Navajo men enlisted to be a part of the service and communicate through an unbreakable code based on their native language. This should be right up my nephew’s alley, as he is somewhat obsessed with World War II. It’s also incredibly well written and exhaustively researched. I hope it opens his eyes to yet another facet of the history of World War II.
Next, I wanted to get him a Steve Sheinkin book, but which to choose? I debated between The Notorious Benedict Arnold, Port Chicago 50, and Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. While I will probably get him the other two eventually, this time I settled on Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, mainly due to the sheer number of awards and honors it won. Bomb tells the story of the development of the atomic bomb in riveting detail. It is described as ” the story of the plotting, the risk-taking, the deceit, and genius that created the world’s most formidable weapon.” I’m hopeful that the science and espionage will intrigue him.
Finally, I wanted to pick something that might take my nephew a little out of his comfort zone and expose him to a ‘triumph of the human spirit’ narrative in hopes of strengthening his empathy skills while rounding out his knowledge base. For this I chose Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson. I’ve long been a fan of Mr. Anderson’s writings and was recently fortunate enough to meet him and have him sign a copy of this book. If I’d been planning ahead, I would have had him sign it to my nephew. Symphony for the City of the Dead tells the story of the siege of Leningrad, during which more than a million citizens died – most of starvation. During this long ordeal, Dmitri Shostakovich would compose the Leningrad Symphony, which would go on to represent the heart of the beleaguered city.
While I was at the book store, I picked up a couple of titles for the Angel Tree. I’ve had store employees express appreciation in the past for the fact that I choose tween and teen recipients from the Angel Tree. I get the feeling that most donors gravitate towards the younger ages. I’m more comfortable picking for the older children, though, so it’s a win-win situation. For the 12 year old girl recipient, I chose a copy of Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger. I’m fairly comfortable with this choice as I’ve found the book to have broad appeal across my student population. I’m hoping that the young lady will enjoy it enough to seek out the rest of the series. For the 13 year old female Angel Tree request, I chose a copy of Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins. I try to always pick at least one Rachel Hawkins book for an Angel Tree gift, as I feel that they have extremely wide appeal, especially in the south. I wanted Rebel Belle for the complexity of the main character as well as the humor of the novel. My hope is that it will be greatly enjoyed while prompting the young lady to think of herself and others more complexly.
To be honest, I wish I had more middle schoolers to choose books for this holiday season. Does anyone need a recommendation?