Posts Tagged ‘middle grade’


Fresh Picks: Middle Grade Medley

by Morgan Reeves on April 11th, 2017

booksThere’s something for every interest on the New Juvenile Fiction shelves. I’ve collected a few standouts for middle grade readers to showcase today. Fantasy, mystery, sci-fi, adventure, realistic fiction, and even a novel in verse. Check out one of these terrific titles today.

 

 

 

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This Won’t End Well: Tragic Middle-Grade Reads

by Anne Wilmoth on March 17th, 2017

If, like me, you don’t mind wallowing in despair, as long as a good story has led you there, try one of these new works of juvenile literature.  Eye-opening and morally challenging for middle-grade readers, and equally moving for adults, these two novels and one biography will be read through tears.

Thumbnail   The Dog, Ray by Linda Coggin

Dog books are notoriously sad, and this one is no exception.  However, instead of doggie death coming at the end of the story, in this book tragedy occurs right at the beginning – 12-year-old girl Daisy is killed in a car crash, and her soul returns to Earth in the body of a dog.  A mistake has been made, though, that allows her to recall her previous life as a girl while living her new life as a dog.  Daisy’s one goal is to find her former home and return to living with her parents, but as their dog.

This intriguing concept plays out in a story that is heartbreaking but also sweet and humorous at times.  Daisy finds that “the responsibilities of a dog are enormous” and though her life may be heading in a completely new direction she can’t control, there is meaning and love and hope in store for her.

 

Thumbnail   The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero by Patricia A. McCormick

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German minister who conspired with others to assassinate Hitler at the height of the Holocaust.  Long a crusader for social justice, Bonhoeffer was one of the earliest critics of the Nazi regime.  At first, he sought the support of other church leaders in condemning Nazism – few did.  Later, Bonhoeffer graduated to espionage, traveling widely outside Germany to share news of the horrors being leveled against Jews – almost no one believed him.  Finally, Bonhoeffer determined that he had no choice but to take part in a daring scheme to end Hitler’s life.

This juvenile biography raises fascinating moral and ethical questions; through reading, we are privy to Bonhoeffer’s decision to turn to violence, despite his religious convictions and commitment to pacifism and nonviolent social change.  Bonhoeffer’s courage and willingness to stand alone is breathtaking; readers will relish this page-turning volume that exposes little-known history.

 

Thumbnail   The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz

To escape gang violence in their small Guatemalan village, 12-year-old Jaime and his cousin Angela embark on a risky journey north, through Mexico and across the border to Texas and safety.  The drug-trafficking gang that controls their town has killed their cousin and promises they’ll be next; their impoverished family, terrified, scrapes together the money needed to finance their escape.  Along the way, Jaime and Angela are locked in a sweltering boxcar for days, dodge murderous gangs as well as the police, endure hunger, and put their lives in the hands of strangers.

This morally complex book is an important read at a moment when immigration is a hot topic around the world. As USA Today reported, in the first 11 months of the 2016 fiscal year, 54,052 unaccompanied minors made the trek from Central America into the United States.  Based on true events, this novel is the tense, heartfelt story of two of these children, for whom an incredibly dangerous journey is their only hope for the future.

 

 

 

Fresh Picks: Strong Heroines

by Morgan Reeves on March 9th, 2017
Fresh Picks: Strong Heroines Cover Image

I grew up reading stories filled with strong female characters, from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne to Roald Dahl’s Matilda to Tamora Pierce’s Alanna the Lioness. I also loved reading biographies about my real-life heroines, Susan B. AnthonyEleanor Roosevelt, and Amelia Earhart. Reading about strong female characters is important for both girls and boys, as reading has a strong influence on children’s ideas and opinions about themselves and others. In honor of Women’s History Month, here are some new books full of both fictional and factual heroines.

Fiction

The Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim

After being sold as a bride to a wealthy family that treats her poorly, eleven-year-old Jing, with the help of her animal spirit friends, runs away. Her subsequent journey is filled with both magic and adventure.

The Runaway by Kate O’Hearn

In the second installment of the Valkyrie series, Freya and Archie are sent back to Earth by Odin in order to locate a banished Valkyrie and bring her back to Asgard. But Brunhilde has built a life for herself on Earth and has no desire to return. And what Freya learns about that life, changes her understanding of her own family.

Disenchanted :The Trials of Cinderella by Megan Morrison

For generations the Charming men have been cursed, but now that the witch Envearia is dead the curse should be broken–however things are complicated at Charming Palace: King Clement is still nasty, Queen Maud has fled with the help of her son, Prince Dash, and Ella Coach (called Cinderella) would rather be at home sewing than living in the palace at Charming Prep school.

Nonfiction

Hidden Figures : The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women Who Helped Launch Our Nation into Space by Margot Lee Shetterly

In this young reader’s edition of the adult title, discover the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, a group of dedicated female African-American mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Fannie Never Flinched : One Woman’s Courage in the Struggle for American Labor Union Rights by Mary Cronk Farrell

Fanny Sellins was a union activist who fought and gave her life for equality and labor reform. This biography shines a light on the long and often dangerous fight for worker’s rights, with the period photographs providing stark reminders of the reasons for the fight.


Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter, Nellie Bly by Deborah Noyes

A biography of Nellie Bly, the pioneering journalist whose showy but substantive stunts skyrocketed her to fame. Her exploits included impersonating an inmate at an asylum for the mentally ill and reporting on the terrible conditions, as well circling the globe in 72 days and interviewing a controversial anarchist.

You’ll find these titles on the Children’s Room New Shelf for the next couple of months. While you’re there, you might find other heroines to be inspired by.

Fresh Picks: Middle Grade Fiction

by Morgan Reeves on December 20th, 2016
Fresh Picks: Middle Grade Fiction Cover Image

Take a break from the winter cold and enjoy these new titles aimed at kids in 4th-7th grades. Mostly realistic fiction with some hints of mystery and speculative science themes, these will appeal to readers who relate best to real world issues.

First, check out The Best Man by Richard Peck. What do you want to be when you grow up? Archer isn’t quite sure, but he has a pretty good idea of who he wants to be. He’s picked out some role models to emulate in his family; his grandfather, father and favorite uncle. He’s even found a fantastic teacher to look up to. As middle school starts, Archer tackles all of the surprises and changes that come his way with humor and a love for the Chicago Cubs.

 

Check out The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz  for an eye-opening look at the hardships refugees and immigrants face as they look for a safer future. Jaime lives in Guatemalan village with his close-knit family. Life would be fine if it weren’t for the violent gang that controls the whole town. When his cousin is killed and a target placed on Jaime’s back, his family sends him on the dangerous and illegal journey through Mexico to the United States.

 

 

Take a look at The Wolf Keepers by Elise Broach for fast-paced adventure for animal lovers. Lizzie has grown up with a love for all animals, as her father is a zookeeper. She often accompanies him to work and considers the John Muir Wildlife Park a second home. Her life takes a turn for the adventurous when she meets Tyler, runaway who has been living in the zoo. He’s sure something strange is going on at the zoo after dark, and asks Lizzie for help figuring out the mystery. Soon they end up running for their lives in the wilderness of Yosemite National Park.

Fresh Picks: Graphic Novels

by Morgan Reeves on October 9th, 2016
Fresh Picks: Graphic Novels Cover Image

Formerly derided as lazy reading, these days graphic novels have come into their own and offer some of the most complex and interesting stories around. Classic comics themes of adventure and humor are still the most prevalent in the format, but nonfiction and historical fiction are gaining in popularity. Some of the newest additions to our jGraphic Novels collection showcase the format’s growing diversity. Let’s start with the sixth volume in the American history series “Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales,” Alamo All-Stars. This book covers the convoluted early history of Texas and its ties to Mexico. The historical facts are kept flowing through the funny narration of Nathan Hale and questions from his executioners. Tangential stories from the lives of Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, and Vicente Guerrero help keep the story personal.

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The Goblin’s Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton

by Morgan Reeves on February 29th, 2016
The Goblin’s Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton Cover Image

Diversity in middle grade fantasy is hard to come by, particularly high fantasy featuring dragons, goblins, princesses, and kings. The Goblin’s Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton provides all of these, as well as a good dose of humor and plenty of logic puzzles.

A dark-skinned slave boy with no name finds himself suddenly free, and for the first time in his life able to choose how to live his life. His choice to free a similarly enslaved goblin may provide him with more adventure than he bargained for, as goblins are notoriously tricky creatures. When the goblin tells him that it was not the boy’s fate to be a slave, he sets off to find his true destiny. With the goblin in tow, he learns many things along they way, including how to catch bats with a sling.

At the same time, a dragon has kidnapped Plain Alice, a case of mistaken identity, as he meant to capture Princess Alice. As the dragon goes off to rectify his mistake, Plain Alice begins doing what she does best, thinking. The soon-to-be-captured Princess Alice is at the center of a royal mess, as her father is trying to make her his heir to skip over the obviously evil Duke Geoffrey. To pay for the costly process, Princess Alice is to be married to a suitably wealthy person, to be decided upon by everyone but Princess Alice. All of these plans go literally out the window when Princess Alice is captured by the dragon. If ever there was a need for a nameless hero in search of his destiny, it is here in the Kingdom of West Stanhope.

The boy volunteers to rescue both Alices, though finds he needs their help just as often as they need his. The multiple threads of the story are finally and carefully woven together in a rooftop duel, a royal declaration, and one last trick from the goblin. In another rarity in recent middle grade fantasy, the story ends without a cliff-hanger to lead us to a sequel. Final word: A fantastic, thought-provoking, stand-alone fantasy adventure.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

by Morgan Reeves on November 23rd, 2015
Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate Cover Image

A couple of people told me I had to read Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate. Now I have to add my own recommendation, please read this book. This story made a huge impact on me in just a few hours (because that’s all it took to finish this page turner). Ostensibly, a middle grade novel, it brings hard issues front and center in a way that people of all ages can relate to. Poverty and homelessness are not issues often featured in middle grade fiction, but Applegate portrays them masterfully here. A father with a crippling disease too proud to ask for help. A mother underemployed after being laid off. A boy trying to cope. A little sister to be protected from the truth. A true friend. And one imaginary cat named Crenshaw.

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Pennyroyal Academy by M. A. Larson

by Morgan Reeves on February 20th, 2015
Pennyroyal Academy by M. A. Larson Cover Image

Moments ago I finished reading Pennyroyal Academy by M. A. Larson. I’ve been reading it on the bus, before bed, while I cook, and even on my walk home. It has been my constant companion since I first became enthralled by the girl with no name and her encounter with a witch and enchanted forest. After running into Remington, a knight-to-be, she soon finds her way to Pennyroyal Academy, where Princesses of the Shield are trained to fight witches. Here anyone can become a princess, if only they train hard enough and learn well enough. Given a diagnosis of suffering from a memory curse, the girl is also give a name, Cadet Eleven or Evie for short. With only a dragon scale and clothes of cobwebs as hints to her past, she feels a bit out of place. However, she soon befriends other outcast girls, though she does have trouble with a sour princess-in-training, aptly named Malora. Learning the history of princesses, navigating warrior training with a Fairy Drillsergeant, and even sewing lessons with the master tailor troll  offer challenges Evie must find the strength to overcome. Twists and turns throughout the story left me guessing (and sometimes peeking to the last chapter). By discovering the truth of her memories and family, Evie is finally free to be herself. A slight undercurrent of romance between Evie and Remington satisfies without overpowering the main story of a girl deciding for herself who she is and what she wants to be. Cheeky nods to classic fairy tales round out this world of witches, princesses, dragons and knights. Pick up this story of self-discovery and adventure for a dose of princess power.

And the winner is….

by Vickie Pasicznyuk on February 3rd, 2015
And the winner is…. Cover Image

On Monday, February 2, the American Library Association (ALA) announced the 2015 Newbery and Caldecott award winners.  These books have won the most prestigious prizes in children’s literature.

John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature:  The Crossover by Kwame Alexander–Twin brothers Josh and Jordan are basketball stars and great friends, until a girl gets in the way.  A middle grade story of brotherhood and basketball told in a variety of poetic styles.

Newbery Honor Books: El Deafo by Cece Bell and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children: The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, written and illustrated by Dan Santat–An imaginary friend sets out on a journey to find a real child to befriend.

Caldecott Honor Books: Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo, The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock and Mary GrandPre, Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales, The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet, and This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki.

For other award winners, see the full list.

 

 

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Levy

by Morgan Reeves on November 29th, 2014
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Levy Cover Image

Two dads, four boys, one dog, one cat, and one invisible cheetah. The Family Fletcher is preparing for a new school year, the first school year where all four of the very different boys will be in school. The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Levy follows this unique, and at the same time totally normal, family throughout the year as they deal with their individual problems. Twelve year-old Sam is a soccer player, a cool kid looked up to as the example for his younger brothers. Can he transfer his talent for storytelling into a part in the school play, and more importantly still be cool? 10 year-old Jax thinks Sam is the coolest, and wants to be accepted as part of the same crowd, now that he’s in the same school building. But with a changing friendship and a school project hanging over his head, Jax might end up more behind than ever.  Eli, also 10 (but a couple of months younger), is starting a new, expensive, academically minded school, trading familiar faces for scholarly challenges. When his new school turns out to be less amazing than he had hoped, he struggles with the his ability to admit he made a mistake. Six year-old Froggie (not Jeremiah) is excited to start kindergarten with Flare, his invisible cheetah. His biggest problems are asking for kittens, turtles and convincing his family that his new friend Ladybug is real girl.

Even with all of their individual issues to work through, the whole family comes together for the biggest Halloween party ever, camping trips, and convincing their grumpy neighbor Mr. Nelson that they mean no harm. With loving support from both Papa and Dad (who have some misadventures of their own), the Fletchers work together to overcome all obstacles that come their way. This is a fun romp that just happens to have a diverse family at the heart of it.