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  • Writer's pictureNora Curry

Spotlight on MSBA: Down to Earth

This week continues a series of posts spotlighting books from this year's Maine Student Book Award list. If you missed the previous posts, here's a little summary:

Every year, a committee of teachers and librarians from across Maine (this one included), read through hundreds and hundreds of books for young readers to craft a final list of forty titles that students in grades 4 through 8 across the state can read throughout the school year. It's an exciting announcement each spring as we find out which book captured the most young hearts and minds throughout Maine when students vote for their favorites! You can find the award and voting process and the list for the 2022-2023 Maine Student Book Award here. Follow the links at the end of this post to request any of this year's MSBA books from our catalog.

And what would the MSBA list be without a good Maine story thrown into the mix? Maine author Betty Culley's first middle grade novel Down to Earth takes place in the fictional northern town of Lowington, Maine, but for readers familiar with small town life, the setting will likely feel quite real. Ten-year-old Henry Bower wants nothing more than to be a water dowser like his father and many previous Bower generations, though his interests don't just lie with water; he is fascinated by rocks (and of course takes that fascination frequently to the library to learn more!). When Henry is the sole witness to a meteorite landing on his family's property, he wants to protect the secret so that the rock can be saved in one piece and used (respectfully) for scientific research, rather than divided up for profit. But when mysterious flooding begins in town, followed by all the wells drying up, townspeople start pointing fingers at the Bowers with their supposed knowledge of and power over the area's water. Introverted Henry soon finds himself fielding calls from reporters and the curator at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. The small town world of Lowington suddenly doesn't feel so small anymore. What can Henry do to protect his family and friends, the meteorite, and the town itself?

Down to Earth has a more quaint style of writing than your average contemporary middle grade novel. Even with all of the challenges that Henry faces, the book feels calm and quiet, moving at a fairly slow pace while still managing to pack in a swiftly moving plot. Henry is a bit naive but charmingly sweet, with an endearing sense of wonder and way of looking at things. He has a thoughtful way of coming to learn and apply words and knowledge to his surrounding world. Down to Earth is Henry's story about discovering who he is and who he wants to be, and it's a story about friendship and family. But it's also a story about more than just the close orbit around Henry. As he navigates trying to figure out how to handle the meteorite situation, Henry wants more than anything to let it stay where it belongs and not be torn apart in the name of money or science. He gives a lot of thought to his communications with the (amusing) museum curator in the hope both to learn more about this rock from space and to respect the meteorite itself. Ultimately, Down to Earth is not only about owning who we are but is also about reflecting on how we own—or don't—the pieces of the world around us. Henry may be the only one who saw this meteorite fall down to earth, but does that make it his? Does it belong in the hands of people who have the equipment and resources to learn more about it? Or does it belong where it came to rest, undisturbed by human hands? Culley leaves plenty of content for her readers to contemplate.

With an increasing number of homeschoolers in our state, many young readers may find Henry's self-motivated exploratory experiences relatable. So whether you're a Mainer, a homeschooler, a geology and space lover, or just someone looking for a good story, Down to Earth might be the MSBA choice for you.

To discover more about other books from this year's list, check out these past blog posts:

The Magical Imperfect, a novel in verse by Chris Baron

The Girl from the Sea, a graphic novel by Molly Knox Ostertag

Garlic & the Vampire, a graphic novel by Bree Paulsen

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water, a picture book written by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith

The Strangest Thing in the Sea: and Other Curious Creatures of the Deep, an interactive picture book by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

Chickenology: The Ultimate Encyclopedia, an informational picture book by Barbara Sandri and Francesco Guibbilini, illustrated by Camilla Pintonato


Maine Student Book Award

Combined 2022-2023 Reading List

Applegate, Katherine. Willodeen.

Bacon, Lee. Imaginary.

Bailar, Schuyler. Obie is Man Enough.

Baron, Chris. The Magical Imperfect.

Bowling, Dusti. Across the Desert.

Chan, Maisie. Danny Chung Sums It Up.

Culley, Betty. Down to Earth.

Durham, David Anthony. The Shadow Prince.

Fagan, Deva. Nightingale.

Fipps, Lisa. Starfish.

Fox, Janet S. Carry Me Home.

Freeman, Megan E. Alone.

Guerrero, Tanya. All You Knead is Love.

Higuera, Donna Barba. The Last Cuentista.

Hoyle, McCall. Stella.

Lawrence, Iain. Deadman’s Castle.

Lim, Elizabeth. Six Crimson Cranes.

Ostertag, Molly. The Girl From the Sea.

Parks, Amy Noelle. Summer of Brave.

Paulsen, Bree. Garlic & the Vampire.

Pineiro, Victor. Time Villains.

Rosenberg, Madelyn. One Small Hop.

Roux, Madeleine. No Humans Allowed.

Smith, Matthew Ross. The Million Dollar Race.

Sorosiak, Carlie. Leonard (My Life as a Cat).

Swinarski, Claire. The Kate in Between.

Uss, Christina. Erik Vs. Everything.

Venable, Colleen A. Katie the Catsitter.

Walker, Angharad. The Ash House.

Zhao, Katie. Last Gamer Standing.

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