A couple of months ago, I started a new series called Middle Grade of the Past, which focuses on a children's novel from anytime between 1950 and 1985. You can check out the first post in the series here. (And if you have old books at home and would like to join in, feel free!)
Today's Middle Grade of the Past #2 is: A GIRL CALLED AL by Constance C. Greene, published in 1969.
Here's the cover of the copy I have:
Back Cover Summary:
Al is a little on the fat side, which is why I didn’t like her at first. She has a very high I.Q., she says. But she doesn’t work to capacity. She says things like that all the time, but I don’t like to let on that I don’t always know what she is talking about.
“I am a nonconformist,” she told me, like she was saying she was a television star or Elizabeth Taylor or something. Al’s mother and father are divorced. She says she doesn’t mind too much that they are divorced. She gets more presents that way.
We figured out the night before last that Al and I have known each other for exactly three weeks. It feels like forever. Some people you just feel like you have always known. That is the way it is with me and Al.
It's a bit offbeat, being told in first person. I'm guessing it's formatted that way because we never learn the main character's name. I remember staring at the cover of this book as a kid and wanting to read it, but I'd never gotten around to it. (Too much homework, probably.)
The Good: Right away, I love the main character’s voice, and I love the things that she and Al say. Fun dialogue (especially in middle grade) can promote an already good book to a very memorable one, and A GIRL CALLED AL is one that will stick with me. I’m also a big fan of kid/adult friendships that are written well, not creepy or unrealistic, and this story has a nice friendship among neighbors.
The Old: Though I’m not sure if it’s an old term or not, I hadn’t heard the phrase “dining ell” (as in, a portion of an L-shaped room reserved for dining) until reading this book. Also, when one character introduces another character, she says, “May I present [name of person]?” I’ve heard that expression before, but only in older media. From this book, I also learned the phrase, “Not on your tintype,” meaning, “Absolutely not.”
The Funny: Al matter-of-factly tells the main character that their teacher’s wife has “ball stones” in her “gladder.” I mentioned in the last Middle Grade of the Past post that I just had my gallbladder out, so I found this particularly amusing. A lot of their exchanges made me smile.
Overall: I loved this book! More than I thought I would, actually. It ended up having more depth than I expected, and even some sad scenes. A GIRL CALLED AL seems like it would appeal to the same audience as the manuscript I’m drafting now, so I read it at the perfect time. Even though this book is a little dated, I still think girls today might enjoy it.
I'm not sure how common this book was. Have any of you read it? I'm still so pleased with how much I enjoyed it. Have you read a book lately that pleasantly surprised you?