Author Focus: Jennifer L. Holm

I have noticed the covers of Jennifer L. Holm’s numerous books on the shelves of our school and public libraries for years. Last month, I picked one up for the first time. Followed by another, and another until I’d read a good chunk of them. I am now a fan.

If you are looking for quality middle grade books for almost any kind of reader, Jennifer L. Holm might be just the author you are looking for. A few of the categories her books fall into include: historical fiction, science-themed stories, novels starring girls, books starring boys, a pinch of fantasy, humor, and a host of graphic novels that she co-wrote with her brother Matthew Holm.

Plus, her stories are really good!

Many of her novels are based on or inspired by stories of Jennifer’s own family. I learned bits of history that I never knew before, discovered characters I loved, laughed, cried and was thoroughly entertained by the stories that fill up her books.

The following books are excellent middle grade reads (including 3 Newbery Honor books) and I am excited to recommend them to you.

Novels:

“Endings are sad. Like goldfish dying and Grandma’s slippers and Brianna and me. But beginnings are exciting. Like discovering something I might be good at and making new friends.”

There is so much I love about these books, the first one especially. If you have a kid intrigued by science, this would be a good fiction pick for them to try. And, if your kids don’t like science at all, they should try it too! So many of Holm’s books include stories of every day life coupled with strong relationships that span generations. I love this!

The Fourteenth Goldfish takes a bit of a fantasy turn when Ellie’s grandpa (a scientist) comes home as a 14-year old boy, but if you can embrace that plot twist (my daughter couldn’t) you will find this duo to be thoughtful, fun and an excellent middle-grade read.

Readers 8 and up

“Everyone thinks children are sweet as Necco Wafers, but I’ve lived long enough to know the truth: kids are rotten. The only difference between grown-ups and kids is that grown-ups go to jail for murder. Kids get away with it.” -first sentence of Turtle in Paradise

This duo takes place in Key West during the Great Depression. The first one follows Beans (everyone has a fun nickname in Key West) as he tries to earn money and gets into trouble with his buddies. Meanwhile, the Federal government is trying to save Key West by turning it into a tourist destination.

Turtle in Paradise picks up where Full of Beans lets off. Only this time is told from Turtle’s perspective. Turtle is Bean’s and has been sent down to Key West because her mother’s job won’t allow her to stay with her. A great cast of characters, funny adventures and a treasure hunt combine to form a story that kids (and their adults) will fully enjoy.

PS Both of these books would be excellent to read a-loud.

Readers 8 and up

This is probably my favorite of Jennifer Holm’s books so far (with The Fourteenth Goldfish very close behind). Another slice-of-life type book, set in 1953. Penny’s father died when she was little. She lives with her mother and grandparents, but is very involved with her father’s very large Italian family. (Warning: you will fall in love with her father’s Italian family, they are a great cast of characters.)

Throughout the story, you get the feeling that Penny does not know everything about her father’s death. This is a story about forgiveness and family that would make another excellent read a-loud or read alone.

Readers 8 and up

I have only read the first book of this duo. May Amelia is the only daughter of a large family filled with boys. She is part of a Finnish family/community living as settler’s in Washington state. This book offers an excellent look into settler life in that time and place.

It also contains some tough plot lines. May Amelia is emotionally abused by her Grandma, and her baby sister dies while under her care which causes her to grieve hard. Throughout the hard, her brother sticks close to her and helps her through.

There are a host of strong women on the pages of this book including May herself. It wasn’t my favorite Holm book, but I’m glad I read it.

Readers 10 and up

There is one more trilogy of books written by Jennifer L. Holm. They are the Boston Jane books. Billed as books perfect for “Fans of adventure, romance, and a strong heroine will love this action-packed historical trilogy.” I haven’t read them, but my guess is they would be most appropriate for older girls in the tween/teen years.

Readers 12 and up

Graphic Novels:

I am generally not a fan of graphic novels, but I loved the Sunny books. Sunny’s older brother is making bad life choices causing Sunny’s parents to send her to Florida to spend time with her Grandpa while they try to deal with him. Living in a retirement community for a few weeks gives Sunny lots of time to make unlikely friendships. I love her relationship with her Grandpa, which continues into the second book, and love the way Sunny grows and learns to find her voice.

The illustrations are fun and the story is solid, making these books a set of graphic novels I can get behind.

Readers 10 and up

BabyMouse and Squish

Graphic novels can be an excellent way to encourage a love of books and reading in kids who may struggle to find the desire to sit down with a book on their own. These two series are no exception. Engaging and FUN to read, BabyMouse and Squish will have your young readers asking for more.

If your kids fall in love with these series, maybe you can convince them to try Full of Beans or Turtle in Paradise next. Just tell them that books by the author of BabyMouse and Squish can’t be that bad, right? ;)

Readers 7 and up

And before I go, there is one more series by Jennifer that I have not read, but the premise intrigues me enough that I want to. Her Stuff series, includes books that share one year-in-the-life of a student using only her stuff. Fun right?! One of these days, I hope to pick up a copy and check them out.

Readers 10 and up

Have you or your kids read any of Jennifer L. Holm’s books? What were your favorites?

Reader age recommendations are just that, recommendations. I list them, oftentimes pulled right off of Amazon, to give you a general guide.

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