Great Children’s Fiction (1): Amal Unbound & Wonderland

I have had a terrific spell of reading standout children’s middle grade fiction over the last few months, and hope to highlight them in series of feature posts!

To begin, here are two recommended reads from acclaimed authors: Amal Unbound and Wonderland. Aisha Saeed‘s Amal Unbound*, which has been on the receiving end of tremendous critical praise (starred reviews from School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly and more), is the supremely heartbreaking, moving and yet ultimately hopeful story of a young girl named Amal who is forced to become a servant for a dishonorable landlord in their Pakistani village- thus effectively crushing her goal of becoming a teacher one day. Saeed writing is focused and clear from start to finish, even as the subject matter and contents ebb and flow with harshness and suspense. Amal Unbound is a necessary, uncomfortable, enlightening read that details a fight against acute injustices; but it is also a read that that allows for possibility and hope, and celebrates a young woman’s against-the-odds triumph. Amal’s voice and story is a memorable, exceptional one; Saeed has given children’s fiction an unforgettable voice, in a story that will linger in the hearts and minds of readers long, long after finishing the book.

Up next we have Wonderland* from Barbara O’Connor, author of much-praised children’s novels such as Wish and How to Steal a Dog. A lovely read that studies multiple characters in a heartwarming and natural manner, Wonderland follows the lives of Mavis Jeeter, just-moved to Landry, Alabama with her mom who becomes the housekeeper for the Tully family; her quickly-made new best friend Rose Tully; and sweet Henry, a worried, lost dog who has run away from his home. Mavis is a whirlwind, often exasperating kind of a character, but one that readers love (think of the protagonists in Gertie’s Leap to Greatness,The Great Gilly Hopkins, or even Harriet the Spy!). Fearless in her approach to situations and people, Mavis takes anxious Rose under her guidance, and becomes enmeshed in a sensitive situation involving an old friend of Rose’s who hasn’t been the same since the death of his beloved dog. Mavis and Rose undergo different kinds of transformation over the course of the novel, as does the third featured character of greyhound Henry. For readers who appreciate a strongly and beautifully written friendship and animal-centered story- with deeply satisfying conclusions!- Wonderland is a great pick.

*I received a copy of Amal Unbound courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. I received a copy of Wonderland courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

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