For this week’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday I’m going to talk about a book about a young kid on a farm who saves a baby animal from being slaughtered. The kid and the animal become best friends while the animal grows to be big and strong and ready to compete in the county fair. But will the kid be able to figure out a way to save the animal from slaughter once and for all?
Did you guess it? Did I hear someone say Charlotte’s Web? In fact I will talk about Charlotte’s Web a bit later, but before I do I want to tell you the book I’m actually reviewing, a 2011 publication called Little Joe by Sandra Neil Wallace. In fact Little Joe is the book I synopsized above. Are you asking yourself the same thing I asked myself as I read it? “How is this book not Charlotte’s Web?”
Well the human protagonist is a boy instead of a girl, and the animal is a calf instead of a pig, and there’s no taking spider, but about there is where the plot dissimilarities end. Don’t get me wrong, Little Joe is a fine book, very nicely written, and much more modern in its story telling than Charlotte’s Web; parts of it are even quite dark. But after read it, I couldn’t quite help asking myself another question: ‘How on earth did a debut author manage to sell this hardly original premise?’
I did a little research. Sandra Neil Wallace is a journalist, so she’s not coming to novel writing from out of the blue, and she happens to be married to the award winning novelist Rich Wallace, who also worked for Highlights for Children. So I can’t help but think that Little Joe, derivative premise and all, had a little help along the way to publication by Alfred A. Knopf.
I hope I don’t sound bitter. I’m not. I certainly don’t want to take anything away from Wallace’s achievement. I just think this is an interesting lesson to those who think that original ideas are what gets published these days. Sometimes it’s just a matter of a skilled writer being in the right place and right time with the right idea, whether it’s a new idea or not. Just so Ms. Wallace knows there’s no hard feelings, I’m going to do a giveaway on my ARC of Little Joe. Post a comment and follow my blog to enter. International entries welcome.
Little Joe is another quite short book with 37,000 words and a reading level of around grade 4. I would recommend this book to kids who loved Charlotte’s Web so that they want to read it again. Fans of the Little House books might also enjoy it, although it is contemporary.
Charlotte Web is a bit shorter (32,000 words) and the same grade level. I’m sorry, but it’s also better. I know talking animals are a bit passé now (apparently) but this book is just so precious that I think every child should read it.
Now, on to I Can’t Wait to Read: The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman has one of the most awesomely awful book covers I have ever seen. The cover makes it look like a cross between early Nancy Drew and a “learning-to-read” book from about 1933. I don’t know what the publisher was thinking. It boggles the mind. Click on the above to get a closer look. That said, if you can get past the cover this book has some of the best blurbs I ever read including this one from Cory Doctorow: “Exposes a wide sweep through a narrow aperture, where the arbitrary nature of race and ownership, kindred and love, are illuminated in the harsh seeking glare of an adolescent’s coming of age.” Uh, sure Cory, I’ll read it. After I read it, can we talk about it, over coffee, or lunch, or breakfast in bed?
Other Marvelous Middle Grade Mondayers can be found here:
- Joanne Fritz @ My Brain on Books
- Ben Langhinrchs @ My Comfy Chair
- Sherrie Petersen @ Write About Now
- Brooke Favero @ Somewhere in the Middle
- Myrna Foster @ Night Writer
- Ally Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy
- Barbara Watson @ Novel and Nouveau
- Deb Marshall @ Just Deb!
- Anita Laydon Miller’s Middle Grade Blog
- Michael G-G @ Middle Grade Mafioso
- Natalie Aguirre @ Literary Rambles
- Ms. Yingling @ Ms. Yingling Reads
- Jennifer Rumberger
- Pam Torres @ So I’m Fifty
- Mary @ Writer’s Butt Does Not Apply to Me
- The Accidental Novelist