Deb Aronson | Blackberry Farm Stories Demonstrate the Joys of Difference | Books

I haven’t reviewed a book about the younger mid-spectrum in a while, and so this week I want to write about Adele Griffin’s Blackberry Farm series.

The books in this level represent some of the first independent reading for young readers, just above the books in the first chapters. They’re illustrated, although more lightly than the chapter books, and they tend to be longer, but not as long as many books I’ve reviewed recently.

When young readers are in this phase, they often tear these stories apart, so it’s handy to have sets so they can jump from book to book without even having to stop to figure out what to read. then.

Although the Blackberry Farm series has only two books so far (“The Becket List” and “All Pets Allowed”), it falls into this category. The stories are upbeat, the problems are relatively straightforward, and the small illustrations help drive the stories forward.

I really like the characters in these stories, partly because they’re not always predictable (like the big boy who we think will be a bully but turns out to be a friend). It would be fun to be part of the Branch family, I think.

The family, Mom, Dad, big sister Caroline, twins Rebecca (she gives herself a new name, Becket, for moving to the countryside) and Nicholas, move to the farm where Dad grew up. They all help Becket’s grandmother run the country store, and Becket’s parents also take over the local veterinary practice.

Becket is an extremely likeable character. She is full of energy, outgoing and ready for anything. His twin brother, Nicholas? Not really. Which is also awesome. Readers can compare and contrast siblings without ever getting the message that it’s better to be one way or the other. We appreciate the differences, and Nicholas provides the perfect contrast to Becket.

Maybe I picked up on that theme even more strongly because I had a child who is more “Becket” and another who is more “Nicholas”, and I wish I had been as understanding of my “Nicholas” as Becket and his family are!

The first story, “Becket List”, opens with their move from town to Blackberry Farm. Becket is ready. She’s ready for new friends, new routines and new “beautiful alerts”, that’s what she screams every time she sees something she’s excited about. Nicholas doesn’t want to leave his neighborhood, doesn’t want new friends and doesn’t want to have new experiences.

The stories focus on Becket, with Nicholas in contrast, but Nicholas has a lot of stage time himself. What I like the most is that the reader can see the pros and cons of each character’s personality and, most likely, will see pieces of themselves in both characters.

The second story in the series, “All Pets Allowed”, resolves Becket’s wish from the first book, to have his own dog. The story begins with Becket and Nicholas who are 10 years old. Becket thinks she’s shown she’s responsible enough to have her own pet, and her parents agree. In fact, they agree that instead of sharing a pet, Becket and Nicholas will each have one. Becket gets a dog, Nicholas gets a cat, but there are more surprises in store for the reader once the new pets come home.

Fortunately, Griffin has written many other mid-level stories, so if readers like Becket and Blackberry Farm stories, they can check out Griffin’s other work (adelegriffin.com/books).

Personally, I can’t wait for the next Blackberry Farm story.

Deb Aronson is an Urbana-based author whose nonfiction book about famed racehorse Rachel Alexandra has been called “a tale of four-legged girl power.”

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