A perfect book for a younger child with a higher reading level and a spot-on middle grade read is found in Lauren DeStefano’s debut middle grade novel, A Curious Tale of the In-Between. Her three main characters are mature, independent and thought provoking individuals. They each have felt loss–one of them even having lost his life. The protagonist, Pram, short for Pragmatic, is born the morning her mother hangs herself from a tree. It is this gift of being born from the dead that allows Pram the ability to see and hear ghosts.
I was enthralled by the bit of creepy followed by the depth of emotion found in this story. Death can be a taboo subject and it is difficult for those ages 8-12 to understand the seven stages of emotions surrounding loss. Both Pram and Clarence have lost a parent and want to find them. It is in their search to find the lost, they meet Lady Savant: an evil woman who collects spirits to give her longevity. It is Pram’s ability to see into the Spirit World that Lady Savant wants for herself and it is one Pram will have to defend. The children have to confess to the adults what they have been searching for allowing difficult discussions to ensue. I was comforted to know there weren’t any lose ends with the initial losses in this novel. It does look as though the children will continue to look for Pram’s father in another upcoming novel.
In the Classroom:
In the Middle Grades of Common Core State Standards there are four elements in the English Language Arts Curriculum. At the end of the year (for all middle grades) students are to read proficiently at the high end of the grade level they are completing. Some schools offer AR, some schools go by minutes, and some schools have pizza party challenges per grade level–even if your school doesn’t have a whole school goal–you should encourage your students to read independently each and every day. This is a perfect independent read. It offers an emotional tie-in to death and loss, but it also borders on the ghost/sci-fi scene many students crave. When students read independently it is wise to assign them two of the three elements in the CCSS. One of the easiest to assign is summary writings (CCSS Key Ideas and Details.) The other one is to assign a compare/contrast of characters to characters or characters to themselves (CCSS Integration of Knowledge and Ideas.)
A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano (Bloomsbury Childrens | 9781619636002 | September 1, 2015)