Let me begin by saying that I think Kevin Henkes is amazing. Seriously. We love his mouse books, and we’ve checked out many of them more than once from the library. (I know I’ve mentioned them at least twice on this blog.) The fact that he’s the writer and the illustrator just makes him that much more impressive.
His middle grade fiction, however, has quite a different feel to it. I remember liking Olive’s Ocean fine, but not loving it, although of course, that was quite some time ago; it took me some time to get into his other Newbery winner–that would be The Year of Billy Miller, one of this year’s Honor books–but I liked that more than fine. It was that one that inspired me to seek out more of his offerings for (relatively) older readers, which is why I picked up Bird Lake Moon. I finished it yesterday evening, and I sat on it for a day partly because I wasn’t sure what to say about it.
It’s absolutely a well-crafted story. And the plot interested me quite a bit, which is why I picked it over his others. The problem is that I just didn’t love it as much as I wanted to–and it’s hard to say why. The characters are well-written, at least the kids are; the adults aren’t poorly written, but rather seen through the eyes of their children, making them one-dimensional in a ‘this is what kids see when they look at their parents’ kind of way. I think my problem is that Henkes is a little too good at telling the story from the 12- and 9-year-old boys’ point of view. It’s a purposeful thing, and I think boys will enjoy it more because it will feel more real to them, but I’m the kind of crazy-over-thinker-live-too-much-in-my-head kind of person that wants to know everything. Ultimately, I don’t think my issues with the book involve weaknesses on its part; I think its strengths just don’t happen to be strengths I seek.
At the end of the day, then, while I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, it’s an excellent choice if you want a book for a boy of perhaps 10-12. On the other hand, I’d recommend the book linked to this post to everyone in the world, because Chester’s Way is really just fabulous. Gotta love the mouse books!
Oh, by the way, my 7-year-old just finished the All-of-a-Kind Family series, and if you like period books about families (but especially girls), you should look into these. The last one is for slightly older readers–not inappropriate, just less interesting for younger kids–but my daughter has enjoyed the whole series. Give it a try!