June Dive | Complicated Worlds of ‘Better Nate Than Ever,’ ‘Blubber’

DBR_StormyStartSummer is here, and with it come carefree days (and late nights) of diving into new books!

Yet life in the middle grades can be anything but carefree at times, or maybe just not as carefree as adults sometimes make it out to be. Kids test out new attitudes, new looks, new language, new friends, and new ideas, whether it’s in the name of being more grown up, getting attention, or simply figuring out what feels right for who you are right now. Sometimes choices turn out as you hoped… other times not so much. What started out one way takes an unexpected turn and, let’s be honest, lands you in hot water.

Attention, Parents! Check our log of prior books and you’ll see that Deep Blue Readers has covered a lot of ground. We have a lot of fun, but we’ve selected some tough reads from the Middle Grade shelf on occasion and we respect the confidence you place in us to choose books informed by trusted sources. For that reason, we are alerting you that the June titles include themes that merit your added attention: bullying, coarse language, and facing doubts about faith and sexuality. If talking movies instead of books, these would earn a solid PG rating, some may want to see PG-13 attached instead, and parents might aim for family discussion afterward.

Making informed choices is part of each parent’s effort to guide kids’ growth as discerning readers, and we likewise respect that each family decides how and when to approach sensitive topics in meaningful ways:

  • Parents always are welcome to read the book selection(s) and to sit in on and/or participate in our discussion
  • It is neither necessary nor required to read both books for our meeting on June 29 — choose what works for you
  • Should you choose to skip ahead to July, our science fiction titles – Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner + pick one from the list — are at the Dive Log

June’s books, Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle and Blubber by Judy Blume, both sit squarely in complicated territory that goes hand-in-hand with Middle Grade lit. It’s a space that kids (and parents, for that matter) approach as best they can with what they have. It’s less a matter of if than a question of when. We all stumble through it and hope we don’t get too bruised in the process.

Blubber2Judy Blume knows a few things about making waves in youth literature, and many authors writing new Middle Grade and YA titles include her among their sources of inspiration. You may have read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing or Superfudge!, which often serve as readers’ first experience with her books.

She wrote about mean girls long before Tina Fey penned a screenplay. Set in the fifth grade, Blubber deftly depicts the damage that results from classmates picking on one another for harsh and random reasons. The New York Times recognized Blubber as ‘Outstanding Book of the Year’ when it arrived on shelves in 1974. Judy Blume served as the ALA’s 2014 Honorary Chair for National Library Week and, in spite of receiving numerous accolades during her career, says she still finds writing to be very challenging.

Select editions of Better Nate Than Ever offer this review on the cover:

“Judy Blume as seen through a Stephen Sondheim lens.” — Huffington Post

Before writing his debut novel, Tim Federle was an associate choreographer for the Broadway musical production of Billy Elliot, which is based on the film of the same name about an 11 year-old in 1980’s England who wants to dance ballet and how he faces people’s reactions.  The experience of auditioning so many aspirinbetter-nate-than-ever-coverg young actors inspired Federle to write Better Nate Than Ever.

The result is a contemporary story that echoes television shows like Modern Family and Glee. Thirteen year-old Nate Foster hatches an involved scheme to hop a bus (without permission) from suburban Pittsburgh to New York City and try out for a role in E.T.: The Musical. Faced with the uncertainties of big city and Broadway stage, Nate grapples with being misunderstood at home and chasing the dreams that may be one lucky break from coming true.

Better Nate Than Ever appears on the ALA – CBC list of recommended books for building a home library for ages 12 – 14, offers an excellent discussion guide at end of paperback editions, and has earned the following recognition:

  • New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2013
  • Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2013 and Flying Start
  • ALSC/ALA Notable Children’s Book of 2014
  • SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Fiction Winner 2014
  • Stonewall Honor Book
  • Odyssey Honor Book (audio book)
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One comment

  1. […] June 29: Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle and Blubber by Judy Blume – ETA for Parents: Please see our new dive update about the June books […]