Sometimes reading one book will help you understand another. In fifth-grade reading classes, I paired Anna Myers The Keeping Room with Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever 1793. The two books, one set during the Revolution and one in the first years of the new nation, showed students what life was like for different classes of people during this time. The struggle didn’t end when the war ended, it just changed.
I was always amazed at the questions the books generated, legitimate questions:
How did they wash their hair?
If there were no grocery stores, what did they eat?
Did they have money?
I read Avi’s Crispin: The Cross of Lead aloud to my seniors before we read any of Shakespeare’s plays. The Newbery-winning Crispin helped students understand Shakespeare’s time and the way income inequality, religion, and the power structure made most of your choices for you.
Before we read Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” I read Patricia Reilly Giff’s Nory Ryan’s Song aloud. I didn’t have to explain Swift’s satire; humanizing the Irish potato famine provided the connection they needed.
Here are four recent books with surprising connections. All four books contain a touch of supernatural. The latter two are great examples of magical realism. They all have other things in common, as well, including exquisite storytelling.
The first pair is set in the Middle Ages. The Inquisitor’s Tale or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz is a literary masterpiece. The story is relentless, the quotable passages bountiful, and Hatem Aly’s illustrations illuminating, pun intended. The drawings in the margins of the pages mimic the illuminated manuscripts of the era.
The Middle Ages were a time of great division. People were taught to fear anyone who was different, and even the king feared the peasant girl, the Jewish boy, and the young monk with the dark skin.
Pair this with The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. What the two books have in common are unlikely heroes, miracles, the role of religion in everyday life, the fear of differences, and quests. It’s the quests that will draw readers in.
Fast forward to a modern setting. Like the two books from the Middle Ages, Kim Ventrella’s Skeleton Tree and Kheryn Callender’s Hurricane Child have magic and mystery. To whom do those twitching fingers belong? Who is that dark woman at the bottom of the ocean?
The real thread that ties the books together are the main characters, kids who must accept who they are and what life throws at them while dealing with issues that even adults find difficult. There are also two missing parents. Ventrella’s Stanly needs his father to come home. Callender’s Caroline must find her mother.
These are my recommendations for your summer reading. Are there books that you’d pair for illumination? Yes, another pun, but I seriously want answers.