Category: Middle School


The National Council of Teachers of English have announced the 2015 winner, honor books and recommended books for the Orbis Pictus Award.  The award was created in 1989 to promote and recognize excellence in writing of children’s nonfiction. 

2015 Winner

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming

 

Honor Books

A Home for Mr. Emerson Mr. Ferris and His Wheel

A Home for Mr. Emerson by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh

20518974

Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson

 

Recommended Books

18172993 Eye to Eye: How Animals See The World

Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa’s Fastest Cats by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop

Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World by Steve Jenkins

The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement 20388100

The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement by Teri Kanefield

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California's Farallon Islands The Scraps Book

Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands by Katherine Roy

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert

The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America's Hero Strike!: The Farm Workers' Fight for Their Rights

The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Terry Widener

Strike!: The Farm Worker’s Fight for Their Rights by Larry Dane Brimner

The National Council of Teachers of English has announced the winners, honor books and recommended titles for the Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children.  This award was established in 2014 and promotes and recognizes excellence in writing.  “This award recognizes fiction that has the potential to transform children’s lives by inviting compassion, imagination, and wonder.”

2015 Charlotte Huck Award Winner

Rain Reign

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

 

Honor Books

Absolutely Almost The Crossover El Deafo

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

El Deafo by Cece Bell

The Farmer and the Clown Revolution

The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee

Revolution by Deborah Wiles

 

Recommended Titles

A Snicker of Magic Draw! The Madman of Piney Woods

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

Draw by Raul Colon

The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Meaning of Maggie The Most Magnificent Thing

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

Otis and the Scarecrow The Secret Hum of a Daisy

Otis and the Scarecrow by Loren Long

The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

The Turtle of Oman: A Novel

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye

Here are my picks for the best nonfiction titles for children from this past year.  The list includes books of poetry and nursery rhymes along with more factual forms of nonfiction.  Enjoy!

All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out

All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents 17320985

Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents by Lita Judge

A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz

Brown Girl Dreaming 21892530

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza by J. L. Powers

The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy Is Enlightening Dare the Wind: The Record-breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud

The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sounds of Joy Is Enlightening by Chris Raschka

Dare the Wind: The Record-breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud by Tracey E. Fern, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully

Edward Hopper Paints His World Eye to Eye: How Animals See The World

Edward Hopper Paints His World by Robert Burleigh

Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World by Steve Jenkins

17870871 Firefly July A Year of Very Short Poems

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart

Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems by Paul B. Janeczko

Goodnight Songs Grandfather Gandhi

Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown

Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk

Hi, Koo! A Home for Mr. Emerson

Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons By Jon J. Muth

A Home for Mr. Emerson by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

How I Discovered Poetry The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse

How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book about Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan

20388100 Little Poems for Tiny Ears

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Little Poems for Tiny Ears by Lin Oliver, illustrated by Tomie dePaola

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky's Abstract Art

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford

The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPre

Not My Girl Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems

Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian, illustrated by Jeremy Holmes

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus The Scraps Book

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jennifer Fisher Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert

Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation

Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America by Tonya Bolden

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman

Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen

Here are my picks for the best graphic novels of the year for youth!  As always, share your own picks in the comments.

Comics Squad: Recess! The Dumbest Idea Ever!

Comics Squad: Recess! by Jennifer L. Holm

The Dumbest Idea Ever! By Jimmy Gownley

El Deafo The Graveyard Book Volume 1

El Deafo by Cece Bell

The Graveyard Book: Volume 1 by P. Craig Russell

Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust Phoebe and Her Unicorn: A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier

Phoebe and Her Unicorn: A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle by Dana Simpson

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl (Zita the Spacegirl, #3) The Shadow Hero

Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang

Sisters The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth (Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue, #1)

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth by Ian Lendler

After doing this for a few years, I just get happy if I can pick few enough to make the number somewhat sensible.  Not sure that 30 counts for that!  But I really had a hard time cutting the number down any farther.  So here are my Top 25 Middle Grade Books of 2014:

Absolutely Almost Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee The Children of the King

Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg

The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett

The Crossover Curiosity

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Curiosity by Gary L. Blackwood

 The Fourteenth Goldfish Gracefully Grayson

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Half a Chance Half a World Away

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata

The Luck Uglies (The Luck Uglies #1) The Madman of Piney Woods

The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham

The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Meaning of Maggie Nest

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern

Nest by Esther Ehrlich

The Night Gardener Nightingale's Nest

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin

Nine Open Arms Outside In

Nine Open Arms by Benny Lindelauf

Outside In by Sarah Ellis

Rain Reign The Red Pencil

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney

The Secret Hum of a Daisy The Swallow: A Ghost Story

The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

The Swallow by Charis Cotter

The Thickety: A Path Begins The Turtle of Oman: A Novel

The Thickety by J. A. White

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye

West of the Moon

West of the Moon by Margi Preus

swallow

The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter

Set in Toronto in the sixties, this book is about two lonely girls living in homes that attach to one another.  Polly has a huge family with foster siblings too.  She feels ignored by all of them, though she can’t get away from her twin brothers and their noise.  That’s how she finds her way into the attic as a safe place away from the bustle of her family.  Polly has always wanted to meet a ghost, which is why she thinks that Rose is a ghost the first time she hears her singing in her neighboring attic.  But Rose turns out to be a real girl, who just happens to look very ghostlike too.  Rose has always been able to see ghosts, and she hates it since they never leave her alone.  Rose spends a lot of her days alone, no one at school talks to her, her parents are very busy business people, and the housekeeper ignores her.  So the two girls quickly form a close friendship, made even closer by the frightening ghost that looks just like Rose and who threatens Polly’s life.  Can the two girls figure out who this ghost is and what she wants?

I seem to be on a roll with Canadian children’s book authors lately, and this is another wonderful Canadian read.  Cotter creates a mystery inside a ghost story that twists and turns delightfully along the way.  Readers will think they have it all figured out and then the story will change.  Yet somehow Cotter makes it all work and in the end the entire novel makes great sense, enough that readers will want to start again to see the clues they may have missed.

The writing here is exceptional.  Cotter writes with a confident voice, one that allows each of these girls to be entire unique.  The two of them are quite different from one another, each clearly resulting from their very divergent upbringings.  The friendship also reads as real with small arguments happening regularly and the two girls having to repair these small issues.  Through the entire book there is a wonderful ghostly presence, a feeling of being in a real place but one unseen by others.  It’s a place that is a delight to visit.

Perfect for reading under the covers with a flashlight, this strong ghost story is both entertaining and riveting.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

outside in

Outside In by Sarah Ellis

Lynn has a busy life with two best friends, choir, and a mother who keeps messing things up.  Her mother can’t hold down a job and the man who has brought a lot of stability to their little family for a few years has just left because her mother cheated on him.  Luckily, he is allowing them to keep living in his condo for a few months.  When Lynn chokes on a butterscotch candy at the bus stop, an unknown person helps her.  All Lynn knows about the person is that they were wearing a plaid skirt.  Lynn sets out to find them, but it isn’t until she gives up that Blossom introduces herself.   As her choir sets off to the United States for a competition, Lynn discovers that her mother hasn’t sent in the paperwork for her passport so she can’t attend.  Her friends head out without her and Lynn starts to get closer to Blossom, a strange girl who talks about disguising herself as a “citizen” and lives off the grid.  Soon Lynn has been drawn into the incredible alternate life of Blossom and her family.  But some things they are doing may not actually be legal and in order to be part of their lives Lynn has to promise to never reveal that they exist.  Lynn’s life works as long as the two worlds remain completely separate, but how long can she lie to her friends and mother?

Ellis is a Canadian author and this book is clearly set in Canada.  Lynn’s own family life is portrayed realistically and with great empathy both for her and for her mother.  There is no great villain here, only humans who make mistakes.  The lives of the “Underlanders” are shown as a balanced mix of utopian and harsh.  The moral questions about what they are doing emerge very naturally as the plot moves forward.  Then at the same time, Lynn herself is struggling with the moral ambiguity of lying to her loved ones about what she is doing in order to keep the Underlanders safe.  Again, there are no right answers here, it is about the puzzles of good and bad, wrong and right.

Lynn is a fairly straightforward character caught in a world where her mother is eccentric and unreliable but her friends are her rocks.  Her new relationship with Blossom captures the fact that she has some of her mother in her as well, something that wants a simpler life and a more unique and meaningful one.  Ellis manages to show this without ever mentioning it, allowing her readers to deeply understand Lynn beyond what Lynn does herself.

A complex and short novel for teens, this book is richly written, filled with ethical choices, and made beautiful by a glimpse into another way of life.  Appropriate for ages 11-14.

Reviewed from library copy.

gracefully grayson

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Grayson lives with his aunt, uncle and cousins after his parents died when he was much younger.  Middle school is hard.  Grayson doesn’t have friends, eating his lunch in the library rather than the cafeteria.  He rarely does anything more than go to school and return home again.  After school, Grayson has time on his own before the others get home and he spends his time in front of the mirror dreaming of wearing a dress and being a princess.  It’s a fantasy he quickly puts away when the others come home, returning once again to being a boy in a long t-shirt and jeans.  Then one day, Grayson decides to go out for the school play.  And when he auditions, he tries out for the role of Persephone.  What will happen if he gets cast as the female lead and is no longer invisible?

Polonsky has created a critical book for middle-graders about the experience of being transgender in middle school.  She hits just the right tone of lightness and seriousness, allowing the story of Grayson to unfold naturally and beautifully on the page.  The reader learns along with Grayson what he is really feeling inside, how he wishes to express it, and also how incredibly brave he is.  He’s an incredible character, one that is relatable and inspiring.

Polonsky also does not duck away from negative reactions to Grayson.  In Grayson’s aunt, readers will see an adult who is struggling to understand someone who is transgender.  She seeks to protect Grayson from bullies by hiding what he truly is and goes after the teacher who is helping Grayson express who he is on the inside.  There are also bullies at Grayson’s school who play a part in his isolation.   Yet there are also heroes among the students as well as Grayson’s uncle who is supportive.  It’s a strong mix of reactions, showing that while there is hate there is also love and support.

An important book for middle-grade children about being transgender and being true to yourself.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from library copy.

map to everywhere

The Map to Everywhere by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis

The first book in a new series, this novel invites readers along on a journey into a series of worlds that are tied together by the Pirate Stream, a river of pure magic.  Fin is an orphan with a strange power where no one remembers him after a few minutes, not even the people at the orphanage who cared for him as a child.  He uses that skill to be a master thief, but then he receives a letter with instructions that take him on a quest to find his mother.  Marrill is living in Arizona, a perfectly dull life, when a ship suddenly appears next to her in the desert.  Climbing aboard, she suddenly finds herself on an adventure in the Pirate Stream with a wizard, the ship’s captain, and the crew of rats.  She has to find the parts of the Map in order to make her way home, exactly what Fin also needs to find his mother.  This adventure takes readers to unknown worlds filled with sinister magic, great friendships, and plenty of action.

Ryan and Davis have crafted a wild fantasy novel that is constantly surprising.  Thanks to the strange waters of the Pirate Stream, the travels on board the ship bring readers and the characters to lands that are unique and fascinating.  There is an island of trees that speak and think where rumors and whispers rule.  There is a frozen land with a leaning tower filled with treasure.  There is a bird made from part of the Map that can lead them to the other pieces.  There are mad wizards who create sorrow wherever they go and are determined to destroy themselves and all of the worlds.

While the adventure is a large part of the book, at its heart is the friendship of Marrill and Fin.  Both of them are lonely children before they meet one another, Marrill because she has traveled a lot with her parents and never settled in one place and Fin because everyone forgets him.  Marrill though does not forget Fin, because she cares so deeply.  Their friendship offers both of them riches beyond treasure and delight beyond the adventure.

This strong middle grade fantasy novel will have readers looking forward to the next book and returning to the dangers and wonders of the Pirate Stream.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

madman of piney woods

The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis

This companion novel to Elijah of Buxton continues the story of the town of Buxton and the people who live there.  This book, which takes place forty years after the first book, is the story of two boys, Benji and Red.  Benji, who lives in Buxton, dreams of becoming a newspaper reporter.  He has two pesky younger siblings who also happen to be gifted builders with wood.  That doesn’t mean though that Benji doesn’t try to put them in their place when they need it.  Benji also has a way with the forest, spending hours walking the trails and exploring.  He is one of the first to see the Madman of Piney Woods.  Red is a scientist.  He’s been raised by his father and maternal grandmother, who hates anyone who isn’t Irish like she is.  She is strict with Red, smacking him regularly with her cane hard enough to raise a lump.  When the two boys meet, they immediately become friends even though their backgrounds are so different.  But can their friendship withstand the brimming hatred of some people in their communities?

I loved Elijah of Buxton so much and I started this book rather gingerly, hoping that it would be just as special as the original.  Happily, it certainly is.  It has a wonderful feeling to it, a rich storytelling that hearkens back to Mark Twain and other classic boyhood friendship books.  Curtis makes sure that we know how different these two boys are:  one with a large family, the other small, different races, different points of view.  Yet it feels so right when the two boys are immediate friends, readers will have known all along that they suit one another. 

Curtis explores deep themes in this novel, offering relief in the form of the exploits of the two boys as they figure out ways to mess with their siblings and escape domineering grandmothers.  There are scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny.  Other scenes though are gut-wrenching and powerful.  They explore themes like the damage done to the psyche during wars, racism, ambition, responsibility and family ties.  It is a testament to the writing of Curtis that both the humor and the drama come together into an exquisite mix of laughter and tears.

A great novel worthy of following the award-winning original, this book will be met with cheers by teachers and young readers alike.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.

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