Category: Middle School

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell (9781481419451)

When their plane crashes in the Amazon, four children are the only ones who survive. Now it is up to them to figure out how to survive in the vast jungle. There is Fred, a teen who has always dreamed of exploring wilderness and of the fame that comes with it. There is Con, a girl with almost no family and even fewer friends. Then Lila and her five-year-old brother Max complete the group. Lila only wants to keep Max healthy and alive, despite all of his attempts to get into trouble. As they forage for food, they discover a man-made shelter and then a series of clues that lead them to a crude map. Having built a raft from wood and vines, they follow the map to discover another human surviving in the jungle, someone so angry that he may not help them at all.

Rundell’s body of work is one of the most varied in children’s literature. The unifying feature though is her ability to bring a setting fully to life for the reader. Here, the setting is incredibly detailed and readers will get to learn about things like eating grubs, vines that make your skin itch, the right way to cook a spider over an open flame, and much more. Rundell doesn’t just present this information, she injects it into her story, showing how rich and beautiful the Amazon is even as she presents its dangers.

The four young characters make a strong group as they work together to survive. Rundell does not give any of them perfect characters, allowing the oldest to wrestle with his wish for fame, others to struggle to communicate, and the youngest to simply be awfully annoying at times. This too adds to the realistic feel of the novel, and in the end shows that friendships can be forged with even the most unlikely of people.

Filled with adventure, wilderness and plenty of icky moments, this is a gripping and fabulous look at the Amazon. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

 

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (9780525429203)

This is a marvelous sequel to the award-winning The War That Saved My Life. Ada has just gotten her club foot surgically repaired in the beginning of this new novel. Due to their home being destroyed, Ada and her brother along with Susan, their guardian, must move into a small cottage on the land owned by Lady and Lord Thornton. As World War II continues, they face food shortages, hard work, and then are asked to house a German refugee while Susan teaches her math. Though her foot is fixed, Ada continues to wrestle with her disability and how it factored in to her mother’s abuse. Once again horses are on the scene to help with healing, both physical and mental, as unlikely friendships and bonds are formed in a small cottage.

Bradley writes books that don’t just draw you in, they captivate you. It was so wonderful to return to Ada’s story and find out what happens to beloved characters. In this sequel, more is shown of the stern Lady Thornton and Bradley demonstrates that with more knowledge comes more understanding. Ada continues to be a dynamic character, never easy with life or her own role in it. And yet as Ada is prickly and abrupt, she is also warm and inquisitive, looking for answers and asking questions.

Bradley wrestles with dark themes in both of the novels in this series. There is the physical and mental abuse that Ada suffered at the hands of her mother. There is the ongoing war that threatens everyone’s safety. There is the loss of beloved characters due to that war. Still, she also shines hope. Hope for progress forward, for learning more, for accepting differences and for building friendships. The tension between all of this is remarkably well-handled and creates a book that is riveting to read.

A sequel that is just as good as the first, get this into the hands of fans. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott

The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott

The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott (9780374305505)

Owen and his best friend Sean are looking forward to the perfect Cape Cod summer spent playing baseball, driving go-karts at Owen’s family’s business, and just messing around. But then Sean’s mother hires a babysitter for him for the summer even though he’s eleven years old, because she has a new job out of town and Sean has diabetes that she worries about. She also won’t let Sean head to the go-karts anymore. Owen tries to spend a lot of time with Sean anyway, but their summers steadily head in different directions. When Sean tells Owen that his babysitter is treating him strangely, Owen can’t tell how serious the problem is. Sean swears Owen to secrecy and seems fine a lot of the time. But other times, when Sean shares more of what is happening, Owen can’t tell if Sean is lying or not. When Owen realizes that it is all true, it may be too late to save his friend.

Abbott has created a book about the beauty of summer as a kid. That theme contrasts with the darkness of sexual abuse that is also central to the story. It’s a book about friendship and what it takes to be a best friend, break a confidence, and tell. It’s also a book about being a kid, the epic nature of summer break and growing up. Abbott beautifully contrasts Owen’s experiences with the trauma that Sean is going through.

This book simply because of its theme may be too mature for some readers. The way the abuse is dealt with offers just enough details for young readers to understand the seriousness of what is happening but not too much to overwhelm them. This is a book that demands to be discussed and will leave readers feeling shaken. There is no simple happy ending here, which speaks to the damage and complexities of sexual abuse.

Strong writing combines with a harrowing story to create a book about what it means to really be a best friend. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.

 

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange (9781338157475)

This British debut is a riveting look at mental illness after the First World War. Henry and her family have moved to Hope House, but Henry’s mother isn’t herself and soon is prescribed absolute bed rest, medicated to keep her asleep most of the time and her door is locked so Henry can’t see her. Henry is left in the rented house with her new baby sister and their nanny who also cares for Henry’s mother. Her father has left to work out of the country. Meanwhile, Henry is drawn to the woods on the property and there she meets a woman who lives on her own in a rundown caravan. She also starts to see and speak to the ghost of her dead brother. As Henry works to figure out what is happening to her mother and how she can reach her, doctors begin to threaten to take her mother to an asylum and hint at the kinds of treatments they might do. Henry soon becomes the only one able to rescue them all.

Strange writes with an eye for detail and a flair for metaphors that create a deep and lush mood throughout this novel. Her writing invites us all to explore darkness, the drama of woods at night and to make friends with those haunting us. The historical setting in Britain is particularly well drawn. The invasive treatments for depression are hinted at, just enough for young readers to understand the threat but not enough for them to be truly frightened.

Henry is a grand heroine. She finds herself far out of her depth in this novel and yet navigates dealing with adults with grace and a certain style. She understands more than the adults in the novel give her credit for and in the end she figures out how best to fix the problems herself, with some help from her grownup friends.

This British import will be enjoyed by fans of classics who will enjoy the historical setting and call for one girl to be the hero. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

 

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (9781626726352)

Vivian hates her high school with its focus on football, a culture where the football players are kings and can do no wrong, and being harassed in the hallways. Inspired by a box of her mother’s mementos, Vivian who has never broken a rule, decides to start her own zine called Moxie. The zine calls at first for simple things like putting stars and hearts on your hands in support of girls. Along the way, Vivian starts to date Seth, a boy who just moved to town and is different from the others at her school. She also makes other new friends, who are drawn together thanks to Moxie. Soon Moxie takes on a life of its own and other girls are forming events using the name. But when one of her best friends is assaulted by a football player and the school does nothing, Vivian gets angrier and Moxie grows even stronger.

Mathieu has created a novel that is filled with a rage that girls should be feeling. The novel talks directly about the apathy that fills high school life, the unchanging feel of assignments and classes, of riding it out until you can finally graduate and escape. She challenges that, showing that small acts of civil disobedience can create a movement, that girls have power if they take it and that fighting back works. It’s a message that is raw and important, one that takes moxie to live out.

All of the characters in this novel are so fully formed and human. They make mistakes and learn from them. It’s a novel that celebrates that people can transform and get angry and that bravery can come from being part of a movement and insisting on being seen and heard. The book celebrates friendships of girls, new and old, and how those friendships can drift and change but still be strong in the end.

This book raises its voice for feminism and fighting back. It’s a book for all genders and all libraries. Appropriate for ages 13-17. (Reviewed from library copy.)

3 Graphic Novels with Girl Power

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All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson (9780525429982)

The author of the popular Roller Girl returns with a book about Impy, a girl who has been homeschooled until this year. Impy has grown up with her parents working at the Renaissance Faire and this year she is also starting work as a squire at the faire for the first time. Public school though is different than Impy thought and though she quickly makes friends, they may not be the right group for her. As Impy starts to make bad decisions at school and at home, her life starts to fall apart. Still, Impy is a knight in training and has people around her to help put her back on the path to being a hero! Appropriate for ages 9-12. (ARC provided by Dials Books)

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Spinning by Tillie Walden (9781626727724)

This memoir graphic novel shares a look at a girl’s life in ice skating, moving to a new city and discovering oneself as an artist. It is also a look at knowing that you are gay and finally coming out to those around you. But most of all, it’s about loneliness and the need to connect and find people around you who love and support you. Throughout the book there is an aching loneliness that pervades the story. The memoir is beautifully unstructured, events passing the way that days in a life do. They are filled with moments, some small and some critical. Walden shares them all, showing an incredible skill for storytelling and art as a young author. Get this into the hands of Lucy Knisley fans. Appropriate for ages 12-15. (Review copy provided by First Second)

Swing it, Sunny

Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm (9780545741705)

Sunny is headed for middle school in this graphic novel that shows her returning home after her summer with Gramps in Florida. Her older brother Dale is now at boarding school and Sunny can’t figure out how to connect with him at all even when he comes home to visit. Set in the mid-1970’s, the book is filled with the pop culture of those times like Jiffy Pop popcorn, the Six-Million Dollar Man, Gilligan’s Island and TV dinners. This second book in the Sunny series tells the story of a family struggling with handling drug abuse but also the small moments that make up a life. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (ARC provided by Scholastic.)

 

 

3 Great New Graphic Novel Fantasies for Kids

Here are my favorite fantasy graphic novels coming out in September. So very different from one another, each one is a separate world between two covers!

Castle in the Stars The Space Race of 1869 by Alex Alice

Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869 by Alex Alice (9781626724938)

Released September 12, 2017.

Translated from the original French, this graphic novel explores an alternative history where the mysterious element of aether is being quested for in the heights of the atmosphere by going up in balloons. Seraphin’s mother was lost after such a quest. Now Seraphin and his father are invited to build a gigantic balloon vessel to continue her search. Told in beautiful watercolor images with fine details and nods to Japanese manga, this large graphic novel invites readers into a new world. With a dynamic mix of historical detail, science and steampunk, this graphic novel is exceptional.

The Dam Keeper by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi

The Dam Keeper by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi (9781626724266)

Released September 26, 2017.

Pig lives in the dam that holds back the darkness. It was built and designed by his father who taught Pig to maintain the dam. Then he disappeared, going through the forbidden door and out into the darkness. Now it is up to Pig to continue maintaining the dam even as the rest of Sunrise Valley ignores the threat of the darkness. As the darkness begins to behave differently, Pig and two of his friends are swept into the world outside of the dam and must figure out how to survive before the darkness claims them too. With unique and fabulous artwork, this graphic novel is based on the Oscar-nominated film.

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke (9781626722668)

Mighty Jack returns in his second book from the author of Zita the Spacegirl. Jack must venture into the world of the monsters who have taken his younger sister. He is joined by Lily, a neighbor girl who has been trained in fighting with swords and has trained Jack as well. The two of them are soon separated from one another and each take a very different path to the final battle. One becomes Goblin King along the way and the other battles rats and is helped by strange creatures living in the plumbing. As always, Hatke surprises and delights this time as he twists the classic Jack and Beanstalk into a tale with dragons and goblins along with the giants!

(Review copies provided by First Second)