Monday, April 3, 2023

Today's read... Rare Birds by Jeff Miller

I was looking forward to hitting today's read thanks to the buzz, which has built up around it. I'm expecting something along the Bridge to Terabrithia range with some slightly darker themes. While this one is sold for middle grade (ages 8 to 12), I've also seen this one recommend for young I'm not sure what to expect on that end. But I guess it's time to dive in and find out!

by Jeff Miller
Union Square Kids
Upper Middle Grade Contemporary
288 pages
ages 8 to 12

Twelve-year-old Graham Dodds is no stranger to hospital waiting rooms. Sometimes, he feels like his entire life is one big waiting room. Waiting for the next doctor to tell them what’s wrong with his mom. Waiting to find out what city they’re moving to next. Waiting to see if they will finally get their miracle—a heart transplant to save his mom’s life.

Now Graham is stuck in Florida for the summer, waiting once again. But when he meets a girl named Lou at the hospital, he finds a friend who needs a distraction as much as he does. She tells him about a contest to find the endangered Snail Kite, which resides in the local gator-filled swamps. Together they embark on an adventure, searching for the rare bird . . . and along the way, Graham might just find something else—himself.



While weighing on the heavier end of a boy's life, a sense of adventure, friendship, and hope make it a read which shines.

Graham has been moving around the country with his mother in search of a remedy to her failing heart. When the shortest transplant list has them landing back in his mother's hometown in Florida, Graham tries to make the best of it, especially when he learns that a rare bird, which his mother has always hoped to find, has been spotted. Better yet, a picture with it might win him $5000. With new found friends, who suffer problems of their own, he heads out into the swamps and finds more than he thought he would.

This tale circles around the difficult theme of having a parent in a year-long health battle, which threatens with losing them completely. But it also adds other tough topics such as bullying, divorce, and loss of a close friend. So, there are many heavier moments, which pull at the heart. For this reason, and the fact that the characters are, at times, mature for their age, I do recommend this for the upper end of the middle grade audience and even into the lower young adult range. 

Considering the darker atmosphere on the emotional end, the author still manages to build a grabbing adventure with all the tension, hopes, and struggles that come with it (watch out for killer crocodiles!). While Graham struggles with the situation of his mother's bad health, he's in a relatively good place emotionally. His openness to the world around him is inspiring, and yet, he's not overly embracing, either. He's the kind of character, which makes an amazing best friend...and he gets exactly that type of friendship back.

The author has also weaved in tons of bird facts and a little information about the swamps in Florida. It does make the perfect setting and settles right in with the rich characters. There's also room for adventure, reminding a tinsy-tiny bit of the fun of Huckleberry Finn (miniscule), and well-planned mirroring between the 'action side' and the heavier themes the characters have to deal with. In other words, it's very well written and will be a treat for the right reader.

And here he is...

Jeff Miller is a middle-grade author and former camp counselor originally from Kent, Ohio. He loves snow, coffee, and visiting schools to connect with young readers. His mom, a 2018 heart transplant recipient, has always inspired him to face life with humor and heart. He is the author of The Nerdy Dozen series, middle-grade books about video games, friendship, top-secret aircraft, positivity, and ostriches. His latest middle-grade novel, Rare Birds, is authentically inspired by his personal experience of living through his own parent’s heart transplant. Miller currently lives in Chicago, where he keeps asking his cats for writing advice.

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