Given my 'druthers, I prefer middle grade fiction to be laugh-out-loud hilarious. But I also want genuine, steal-your-heart characters, a thread of depth and emotion that's believable but doesn't hit you over the head, and a satisfying, sigh-worthy ending. While I'm at it, a classic case of mistaken identity doesn't hurt.
A tall order? Perhaps. But every so often, an author delivers, and that is why Frank Cottrell Boyce is my new middle grade obsession. Here are two books you really must read:
Cosmic is a story about Liam, a twelve-year-old boy who's hit a bit of a growth spurt. In fact, with the seven inches and facial hair he gained over the summer, most strangers think he's an adult. At first, this manifests itself in some funny episodes like being mistaken for a teacher and taking a sports car out for a test drive. But when Liam has a chance to take a special "thrill-ride" to outer space, that's when things get a little out of control. Cosmic is funny and clever and touching in all the best ways.
Millions (Frank Cottrell Boyce's first novel) is set in England, just seven days before the monetary system changed from pounds to Euros. Fourth-grader Damian is struggling to cope with the loss of his mother and he obsesses over the stories of Catholic saints, hoping that perhaps his mom has joined their ranks. One day, while he is in his homemade cardboard "hermitage," a bag of English pounds falls from the sky. Convinced that it is a message from God, Damian believes he must use the money for saintly purposes. His brother, Anthony, just wants to spend it. Either way, they only have seven days to figure out what to do with the cash before it becomes completely worthless. A beautiful, funny, and poignant story about brothers, family, and the true meaning of saintliness.
An interesting side note: I saw the movie version of Millions a few years ago and it turns out that Frank Cottrell Boyce actually wrote the screenplay before he wrote the book. The movie version was already in production while he was writing the novel and he says in an interview that walking around on the set helped him visualize the setting while he was writing.
Here's an interview with Frank Cottrell Boyce about Cosmic:
Also posted at ACLA Youth Services Blog.