I was so excited when I heard about Vanished by Sheela Chari. It's not often that a mystery centers around an ancient Indian instrument. I was immediately intrigued.
Synopsis from Amazon:
Eleven-year-old Neela dreams of being a famous musician, performing for admiring crowds on her traditional Indian stringed instrument. Her particular instrument was a gift from her grandmother-intricately carved with a mysterious-looking dragon.
When this special family heirloom vanishes from a local church, strange clues surface: a tea kettle ornamented with a familiar pointy-faced dragon, a threatening note, a connection to a famous dead musician, and even a legendary curse. The clues point all the way to India, where it seems that Neela's instrument has a long history of vanishing and reappearing. Even if Neela does track it down, will she be able to stop it from disappearing again?
What I loved about this book:
--Learning about another culture, an unusual instrument (a veena) with a fascinating history. You don't have to have a murder for a mystery to be compelling.
--Neela's difficulties in learning to play in front of others was very relatable. I still remember how I hated my piano recitals! (Please don't make me play in front of other people. Ever again.)
--I loved that Neela had a strong relationship with her parents and her brother. This was so refreshing, because often in kidlit, kids seem somewhat divorced from their parents. Although Neela did branch out on her own, her relationship to her parents and family was always important to her.
--I thought Neela's pull between the Indian and American sides of herself was very authentic and real.
--I loved how Chari handled Neela's friendship with a boy in a way that was authentic to Neela's culture and her character.
Vanished was an APALA Honor book, an Edgar Nominee and pick for Al Roker's Book Club for kids.
For more middle grade suggestions, see Shannon Messenger's blog.
Have you read any good middle grades lately?