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The Aurora County All-Stars, by Deborah Wiles

House Jackson, age twelve, star pitcher and team captain of the Aurora County All-Stars, has a secret. For the past year while he was sidelined with a broken elbow, he spent every afternoon at the bedside of a mysterious old man the other  kids call Mean-Man Boyd–and he doesn’t want anyone to know. Now House is finally ready to play ball again, but his team’s biggest (and only) game of the year might be canceled, thanks to the very girl who caused his broken  elbow. It’s almost too much to bear. But in the standoff that ensues, House finds a courage he didn’t know he possessed–and discovers that just about everyone in Aurora County, Mississippi has a secret. [Book Jacket Synopsis]

A Line Drive Out of the Park – Fun For All Ages

This story is about baseball … but that’s just the surface. Underneath lies a rich tapestry of friendship, betrayal, courage, family, and acceptance that is spun through with the deep mystery of life–the symphony true. I am in awe of a story that seamlessly weaves profound themes (Walt Whitman, no less) with baseball, a old Pug dog, ballerinas, and small town eccentricities … served up with with laugh-out-loud humor.

When House is finally able to play ball again, full-of-herself Frances (Finesse) Shotz waltzes back into his life to ruin it again. She insists the ball team must perform in  her pageant (for the town’s 200th anniversary) … wearing costumes! The team is horrified, but the rest of the town sides with Frances and their one-and-only ballgame is doomed. Life couldn’t get more unfair. You’d think a best friend would be sympathetic of his team captain’s predicament. But Cleebo puts the responsibility back on to House:

You have to approach your problems! You never approach your problems, House. You don’t talk about ’em … and that’s what gets folks in trouble … they don’t approach their problems.

House is pissed, but his friend’s words force him to dig deep and find the courage he needs to tackle his problems head on. And the results are nothing short of staggering. House’s belief in Walt Whitman’s symphony true saves the baseball game, and the pageant goes on in all its flamboyant glory. But more important, House sees the way to forgive his best friend’s betrayal and forget the unintentional wrongs of the past. The trials of friendship and family will resonate with readers of all ages, as will the lessons of acceptance and forgiveness.

If you’ve read Deborah Wiles’ other books set in Aurora County, Mississippi, (Each Little Bird that Sings or Love, Ruby Lavender) you’ll continue to be delighted by the rich and quirky characters she brings to life with such ease. If you haven’t read them, you’re still in for a real treat with The Aurora County All Stars!

Do you have a favorite Middle Grade summer read?