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Books Middle Grade Monday

Middle Grade Monday: Front Desk by Kelly Yang

I’m really excited about today’s post because I’m finally back with another Middle Grade Monday installment!

One of the main reasons I wanted to create a specific post series focused on middle grade books was because I hoped to find more books that I could share with my younger brothers. Unfortunately for me, my brothers aren’t huge readers (yet) but fortunately for you all I have loved reading middle grade books and I need somewhere to share my thoughts on them! These may not be weekly posts but I’m hoping to get one up as often as I can.

So as I’ve been seeking out new middle grade books for my brothers and myself I’ve talked to my mom quite a bit about what kind of content she wants me to look for. During one conversation I mentioned rereading a book that I had read in elementary school and finding problematic language in it. My mom said that when reading with my brothers, finding something like that in a book is an opportunity to teach them why it may not be appropriate. In the same vein, when a book contains a tough topic that also allows for educational moments while reading.

When I was in elementary school I gravitated more towards historical fiction and fantasy books. While these remain my favorite genres today I’ve also enjoyed picking up realistic fiction middle grades. There are so many unique stories and my TBR keeps getting longer and longer. I do also want to note that my Middle Grade Monday posts will contain some spoilers on the books I discuss because I want adults who may be looking for reviews to know what they may see before passing the book on to kids!

Now with that out of the way, let’s get into the book discussion! One book I had been hoping to read for a while now was Front Desk by Kelly Yang. My library has a pretty extensive e-book selection and when I saw they had a copy available I immediately checked it out. This book is a semi autobiographical story that touches on numerous big topics but is filled with determination and optimism and I adored it.

Image Description: Cover of Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

Front Desk takes place in the early 90’s but the relevance of the topics within was powerful. Yang touches on immigration, racism, police brutality/prejudice, bullying, employee mistreatment, and poverty. I’ll also note that there is a description of physical assault during a robbery and then a hospital visit. As I previously mentioned, Front Desk is semi autobiographical. At the end of the book she included an author’s note in which she spoke about how she helped her parents run various motels after they moved to the United States. Her family helped numerous Chinese immigrants during a time when economic hardship allowed for gross exploitation. Yang states that by sharing their stories in Front Desk she hopes these “immigrants’ struggles and sacrifices will not be forgotten. They will not be forgotten.”

So as the synopsis says, this story follows a girl named Mia. She has so much determination and compassion and it was really interesting seeing the ideas she came up with to try and help others. I haven’t read the other books in this series yet but I can only imagine what Mia might get into in those. Her interest in writing leads to using letters in order to help those around her. This reminded me of when I was in elementary school and made more than one petition for the pettiest things now looking back. Kids should know that they always have a voice, they can have opinions, and they can help.

Now does Mia also get into situations that weren’t really great? Yes. Like at one point she was trying to help solve where a stolen car went because the main suspect was a black woman and Mia wanted to prove her innocence. In doing so, she goes to a man’s house to see about the car and almost gets into a dangerous situation with her friend. That part was kind of stressful and also a great lesson not to go into stranger’s houses.

Using the letters, Mia helps countless others but also gains confidence in herself. Even with her growing confidence though, she struggles with what her mother wants from her. Mia loves writing but continually gets discouraged because her mom wants her to focus on math. This ends up leading to a really emotional scene where Mia finally learns that her mom wants to be able to help her but if English is Mia’s passion then she knows she can’t help her daughter. It was a really powerful realization showing how much Mia’s mom cared for her daughter. Mia’s mom was embarrassed that she struggled with her English and she was discouraged with her family’s misfortune in the United States and I was really glad to see how much this family cared for one another.

In the end, they also gained something of a found family with the immigrants who passed through as well as the “weeklies” from the motel. The friends that Mia made helped her learn so much about the world around her and while some of the realizations she made, especially those about racism, were tough to read they were important things that kids do need to learn about. Mia was so bright and it was heartwarming to see how she worked through the discouraging moments throughout the story. I think that Front Desk is a great book for showing kids not only that they have a voice that they can use to help others but also that it’s important to learn how certain situations may affect people differently. I highly recommend this book and look forward to picking up the next book in the series when I can!

Before I sign off I also wanted to say that I loved reading the About the Author section to realize what writing has done for Yang as it was beginning to do for Mia. Yang actually went to college at the age of thirteen and graduated from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law. Though she was one of the youngest women to graduate from Harvard Law, Yang decided to pursue writing instead. This lead to her founding The Kelly Yang Project which is “a leading writing and debating program for children in Asia and the United States.” I thought it was amazing that she created this and I hope the kids who have gotten involved find their voices through writing.

If you’re interested in picking up a copy of Front Desk you can find it in these places:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // IndieBound (which you can use to find an indie store near you!)

Other places you can find me:

Twitter: @/nihilisticactus

Add me on Goodreads here.

Readerly: @/sideofadventure

If you’re interested in supporting the blog, my Ko-Fi is here.

You can also email me at adventuresandespresso@gmail.com for review inquiries, etc.

Thanks so much for reading and I’ll talk to you in my next post!

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Books Uncategorized

The Books That Shaped Me

At this point in my life, I have read too many books to count. Going to the library as a kid was one of my favorite outings and every year my uncle used to give me $50 to Barnes and Noble for Christmas. Though nowadays I struggle greatly to find my motivation to read I still love devouring books and when I find a good one it makes me so grateful.

I was going through my goodreads account looking at all the books I had there so that I could look some stuff up for another blog post and I couldn’t help but get slightly emotional over all of the books that I had listed on there that I read way back in elementary and middle school. Books played such a pivotal role in my childhood that I decided to round up a bunch of the books that really shaped me as a person and as a reader and share them with you. I feel like this post could get really long so I might end up sharing this in parts!

I’m basically just going to compile this list with just the names of the books/authors with some commentary when I see fit because I feel like if I were to add my commentary to every single one of these this post would be two miles long and no one would read it! However, if you are interested in more of my commentary on certain books or series just comment on this post and I can make singular posts about certain books/series if you want to know more!

Anyways, here are the books that shaped me!

The Harry Potter series

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Books written by Margaret Peterson Haddix

RunningOutofTime

Specifically Running Out of Time which to this day I maintain as being one of my all time favorite books. Which reminds me, I need to buy a new copy of this still as my last one was stolen from me… This story is just crazy and I highly recommend this book to anyone!

The Main Street series by Ann M. Martin

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Though in general Ann M. Martin’s books all were a really big childhood, her Main Street series was probably my favorite (and I’m honestly still trying to read them!) Her Babysitter’s Club series will always be a classic as well.

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

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When I first read this series the books were still being released and I remember waiting for the last book and I was so excited when it finally showed up at my library and I could read it! It was the weirdest set of books I had ever read and I was genuinely extremely confused by the entire experience of reading this but I loved it!

American Girl books

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I think that these books had a really big influence into my love of history, as did a few others on this list. American Girl books and the dolls were huge in my life. The magazine was my first ever subscription and I have every single one of those saved in a box still! Kit was my favorite and to this day I still watch the movies if I can get my hands on them!

Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park

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I have to brag for a second when I mention this book. We actually read this book for a school thing (I can’t remember what it was called but everyone in my grade got this book for free and after we read it we had a big game of jeopardy) and I have to credit myself for winning grade-wide jeopardy for my class. All because I knew the name of the study of bugs! It’s entomology btw if any of you wanted to know. I will also say that I think that this book was one of the first times that I really stopped to think about how creatures that aren’t humans are treated and it made me really sad!

The Beacon Street Girls Series

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Somewhere out there, there is a website that is somehow related to this series that has my first ever attempts at blogging on it. I’m not even going to lie, as I’m writing this post I’m thinking about going to the library to check out books from this series. I loved these books so much growing up! I actually kind of regret getting rid of my collection of them!

Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton

soulsurfer

Bethany Hamilton, to this day, is one of my biggest heroes! Her faith, strength, and heart are so inspiring and I’m so glad that I discovered her when I did. In sixth grade I actually did an entire presentation as her after reading this book. She’s an amazing woman and I love following what she does!

Halfway to the Sky by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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This (along with the next book on the list) have been huge in influencing my wanting to explore more. Halfway to the Sky actually inspired my want to hike the Appalachian Trail someday!

Skye’s the Limit by Megan Shull

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The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

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I read this book in sixth grade as well and actually read it for a small reading group. The reason this made it onto the list has more to do with my experience of reading it though instead of the story itself (though I do love the story and totally want to reread this!). I’ll try to tell the story quickly…

So back in first grade I got really excited about a book that I was reading for a reading group and ended up reading the whole thing in one night. The next day I said this to my teacher and it was like I had done something illegal! She yelled at me in front of my entire reading group telling me that I was horrible for not being able to follow directions and that I shouldn’t have read ahead and should never do it again. So I tried to never read ahead again (and I still think that this might be why I hated reading books for school more often than not).

Then in sixth grade, I ended up reading this entire book in one night because it was so entertaining I had to finish it! I revealed this to my reading group during our discussion and one of the girls actually told the teacher when she came around to talk to us… I was genuinely terrified when my group mate told her but my teacher almost immediately asked me what I thought of the ending and couldn’t help but discuss how much I had liked the book. The way she reacted compared to my first grade teacher actually shocked me and made me realize just how important it is to have good teachers who have fun/encourage their students to do stuff.

Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass

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The Sisters Club by Megan McDonald

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Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles

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This book kickstarted this weird obsession with anthropology that has always stuck in the back of my head. It’s the reason that I loved the show Bones so much and honestly has now inspired me in my newest collegiate pursuit. Weird how random things will end up influencing your entire life!

Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris

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And finally…

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages

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I borrowed this from a friend in elementary school and have been hooked on learning about World War II ever since! This book, of all of these, probably jumpstarted my love of history more than anything and I credit this to my insanely crazy interest in the World Wars (especially the experience of those on the homefront) ever since.

So now that I’ve talked your ear off… I want to know, what books shaped you as a kid? What was your favorite book growing up? I’d love to read them!

 

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