A bias many adults don’t realize they have is that middle grade fiction, is well, for kids. The streamlined plot and storytelling do not indicate a simple story, however. In fact, I love reading middle grade fiction because of the tough issues and questions the authors wrestle with, without all the fancy, plumped up fiction we often read as adults.
The Benefits of Being an Octopus, caught my eye in a library journal. Growing up in a rural Ohio setting, the story of Zoey, although was not MY personal experience of childhood, was familiar.
Often times rural Americans are not portrayed in a positive way. News reports, television programs show only one side of the problems the rural poor face in America. Ann Braden, however brings to light many important issues that all people need to pay attention to no matter where one’s zip code lies.
Zoey, a six-grader, lives the life of an adult, taking care of her younger brothers and sister while also navigating her own school life. When Zoey’s social studies teacher invites Zoey to participate in the school after school debate club, Zoey has no idea how the activity will not only change her outlook about her own life, the confidence she gains through debating difficult issues brings her to help her friends and family better their own situations.
The story has universal appeal. It deals with difficult real life topics, we as adults, debate. Gun control, living wages, and safety and security aren’t only issues that impact older generations. The author Ann Braden, delicately shows that each issue has two sides and it is our responsibility to hear, research and understand those sides before we form opinions.
As a writer, I was impressed with Braden’s clear trajectory of misbelief morphing into character change. Zoey, wants to be the clear confident person she once saw her mother as. She doesn’t look to adults to give her the confidence, but she draws through her own experiences, the tools she needs to be the person she wants to become. I was in Zoey’s head through the entire story, understanding the choices she made and feeling the pain of the consequences when those decisions didn’t end up like she had expected.
As a librarian, I recommend this to all people wanting to explore the lives of people far different from their own. Living in the city, it is easy to discount the experiences of rural Americans, believing that ignorance or willingly blinding yourself to a issue is the truth. Reading is the a great way to break down biases and become more empathetic to the lives of people who are far different from our own.
The Benefits of Being an Octopus would make a great community book club read as well as an impactful book discussion pick. Braden has demonstrated that middle grade fiction, although written for kids, has the depth and nuance that will entice the discerning adult reader.
To find out more about the author, visit: