Kirkus Best Middle-Grade Books of 2018

Kirkus has released their list of the Best Middle-Grade Books of 2018. On their website, they list them in categories, but I will list them alphabetically here. Here are the titles:

The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle Akissi: Tales of Mischief

The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle by Christina Uss, illustrated by Jonathan Bean

Akissi: Tales of Mischief by Marguerite Abouet, illustrated by Mathieu Sapin

All Summer Long Amal Unbound

All Summer Long by Hope Larson

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle Aru Shah and the End of Time (Pandava Quartet, #1)

Ana Maria Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle by Hilda Eunice Burgos

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge Baby Monkey, Private Eye

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin

37570583 The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor

Backyard Bears: Conservation, Habitat Changes, and the Rise of Urban Wildlife by Amy Cherrix

The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor by Sonia Sotomayor

The Book of Boy Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor

The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, illustrated by Ian Schoenherr

Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor by Temple Grandin

Camp Panda: Helping Cubs Return to the Wild Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship

Camp Panda: Helping Cubs Return to the Wild by Catherine Thimmesh

Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship by Irene Latham, Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls, Selina Alko

Capsized!: The Forgotten Story of the SS Eastland Disaster The Cardboard Kingdom

Capsized!: The Forgotten Story of the SS Eastland Disaster by Patricia Sutton

The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell

A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic, #1) The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America

A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano

The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America by Jaime Hernandez

Dragons in a Bag (Dragons in a Bag #1) Eat This!: How Fast Food Marketing Gets You to Buy Junk (and how to fight back)

Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Geneva B

Eat This!: How Fast Food Marketing Gets You to Buy Junk (And How to Fight Back) by Andrea Curtis, illustrated by Peggy Collins

Everlasting Nora Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man

Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz

Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man by Tonya Bolden

Fake Blood The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix

Finding Langston First Generation: 36 Trailblazing Immigrants and Refugees Who Make America Great

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

First Generation: 36 Trailblazing Immigrants and Refugees Who Make America Great by Sandra Neil Wallace, Rich Wallace, illustrated by Agata Nowicka

Front Desk The Ghost Road

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's Art Changed Science Gone to Drift

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman

Gone to Drift by Diana McCaulay

The Great Googlini Harbor Me

The Great Googlini by Sara Cassidy, illustrated by Charlene Chua

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

The House That Lou Built The House With Chicken Legs

The House that Lou Built by Mae Respicio

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

Hurricane Child 35721253

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender

The Hyena Scientist by Sy Montgomery, photographed by Nic Bishop

Illegal The Island at the End of Everything

Illegal by Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano

The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

It's Up to You, Abe Lincoln Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World

It’s Up to You, Abe Lincoln by Leila Hirschfeld, Tom Hirschfeld, illustrated by Lisa Weber, Neal Swaab

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

The Journey of Little Charlie Knights vs. Dinosaurs

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan

The Language of Spells Look at the Weather

The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr, illustrated by Katie Harnett

Look at the Weather by Britta Teckentrup

Love Like Sky Martin Rising: Requiem For a King

Love Like Sky by Leslie C. Youngblood

Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Meet Yasmin! Merci Suárez Changes Gears

Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi, illustrated by Hatem Aly

Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl The Night Diary

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

North to Benjamin Otherwood

North to Benjamin by Alan Cumyn

Otherwood by Pete Hautman

Out of Left Field The Parker Inheritance

Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

Sanity & Tallulah The Science of Breakable Things

Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller, illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis

The Season of Styx Malone The Sky at Our Feet

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

The Sky at Our Feet by Nadia Hashimi

Small Spaces 35804743

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

Snowy Owl Invasion!: Tracking an Unusual Migration by Sandra Markle

So Done Stanley Will Probably Be Fine

So Done by Paula Chase

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla, illustrated by Steve Wolfhard

Struttin' with Some Barbecue: Lil Harden Armstrong Becomes the First Lady of Jazz Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy

Struttin’ with Some Barbecue: Lil Harden Armstrong Becomes the First Lady of Jazz by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Rachel Himes

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy by Tony Medina

Tortot, The Cold Fish Who Lost His World and Found His Heart The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle

Tortot, the Cold Fish Who Lost His World and Found His Heart by Benny Lindelauf, illustrated by Ludwig Volbeda

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor

The Turnaway Girls We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices

The Turnaway Girls by Hayley Chewins

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson

You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P! You Go First

You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P. by Alex Gino

You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly

Zenobia

Zenobia by Morten Dürr, illustrated by Lars Horneman

Review: Snow Lane by Josie Angelini

Snow Lane by Josie Angelini

Snow Lane by Josie Angelini (9781250150929)

Annie doesn’t live in the type of family that lets them take tropical vacations during school breaks like some of the kids she goes to school with. She is the youngest of nine children in her family and money is tight. Her father works so much that she barely sees him at all unless it is while she is helping out at their family farm picking berries. Her mother doesn’t pay much attention to any of the children except the two talented ones. As Annie returns to school for a new year, she realizes that she is very different than the other kids and it goes a lot deeper than her having to wear hand-me-downs from her older brother and wait to get new shoes that don’t have a huge hole in them. Annie is consistently resilient and cheerful in the face of everything she has to deal with, something that is all the more impressive as her family secrets are revealed.

Angelini has drawn from her own family history to create one of the most heart-wrenching books of the year. Readers will immediately know that there is something wrong in Annie’s life as they witness her older siblings being cruel to Annie and her closest sister. Annie struggles with dyslexia and one older sister who is physically violent and also emotionally abusive, telling Annie that she is stupid all the time. As the book steadily reveals the truth about the family, things fall into place and leave Annie to find a way forward using her optimism and intelligence.

Angelini writes beautifully here. She allows the story to play out in front of the reader with Annie herself living in denial about what is actually happening in her family. That denial is even explained clearly towards the end of the book, which gives readers hope that Annie will not just survive but start to thrive. Angelini gives Annie two critical friendships at school that allow her to be successful. Both friends clearly have some ideas of what might be happening to Annie, but neither push that too hard, offering instead friendship, food, and safety.

Heartfelt and painfully honest, this book will speak to so many children living in similar circumstances and allow them to know they are not alone. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks

Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks

Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks (9781368008440)

Living on Wilnick, an outdated and aging space station at the end of the galaxy could be dull, but not for best friends Sanity and Tallulah. Sanity, who has always wanted a pet despite rules against having one, decides to create one herself. It turns out to be a very cute three-headed kitten with a taste for meat. The kitten manages to escape soon after Tallulah’s mother finds out that she exists. The girls set out to find out whether the problems that are happening across the space station are the fault of one cute kitten or maybe it’s something else. Meanwhile, there seems to be a very large monster on the loose and the coolant tank appears to have been drunk dry. As disaster looms aboard the space station, it’s up to Sanity to save the day thanks to the technology she explored when creating her illegal pet.

Brooks sets exactly the right tone in this graphic novel. The girls best friends who tend to talk one another into getting into even more trouble while trying to fix what they have already done. Add in a three-headed kitten and mayhem follows. The two girls could not be more different, which makes for an odd-couple chemistry between them. The story is fast paced and a delightful mix of STEM and girl power.

The art in the book is done in a limited color palette with pinks and deep blues. The art brings to life the space station and its size, conveying the hazards of keeping it functional while giving the girls a lot of space to run into trouble. The cast of characters is wonderfully diverse and that extends to all of the people who live aboard the space station.

A strong graphic novel with plenty of appeal. Appropriate for ages 9-12

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden (9780525515029)

This shivery novel for middle-grade readers will give just the right amount of creepiness for kids reading Goosebumps. Ollie’s mother died in an accident last year, and Ollie found solace in her books, withdrawing from the kids who were her friends and not talking in class. Her father continues to create a warm home for her filled with fresh-baked bread and other treats. When Ollie meets a strange woman about to throw a book into the lake, Ollie rescues the book and runs away. She reads the book, learning about the “smiling man” and the deal that a local man made with him. When she heads out on a field trip with her class, Ollie is surprised to find herself on the farm in the book that has graves for the people in the story. On their way back home, the school bus breaks down and Ollie escapes with two other students from the clutches of the scarecrows and the smiling man himself. Can they avoid capture and find a way back home before nightfall?

There is so much to love about this book. It is so readable for kids, a story that is well-paced and actually frightening, but at just the right level for young readers. The scarecrows are particularly effective as they pivot to watch the children go by and come to life at night. The ghosts are eerie as is the hungry gray bus driver. Young readers will also appreciate Ollie’s growing connection to her mother through her mother’s broken watch, something that tells her what to do and by when. It’s a clever addition to the story, offering a sign of hope and a way out of grief.

Throughout the book, there are characters who will surprise readers by going directly against stereotype. First, there are Ollie’s parents with her domestic father and adventurous mother. Then the two children who accompany Ollie through her adventure are a jock who reads and quotes literature at just the right time and a girl who looks tiny and frail but can climb almost anything and is actually brave and strong. These unexpected little touches add up to a team that is unbeatable as they face real demons.

Written with rich prose that is a delight to read, this eerie tale will be enjoyed by any young reader looking for some spine tingles. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Publisher’s Weekly Best Middle Grade & YA Books

PW has released their list of the top books of the year for children and teens. The list includes the top 50 books out of the 1700 books reviewed in PW this year. Here are the top picks for Middle Grade and YA readers:

MIDDLE GRADE

Amal Unbound The Book of Boy

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Dactyl Hill Squad Front Desk

Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Older

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Herstory: 50 Women and Girls Who Shook Up the World A History of Pictures for Children: From Cave Paintings to Computer Drawings

Herstory: 50 Women and Girls Who Shook Up the World by Katherine Halligan, illustrated by Sarah Walsh

A History of Pictures for Children: From Cave Paintings to Computer Drawings by David Hockney and Martin Gayford, illustrated by Rose Blake

It Wasn't Me Merci Suárez Changes Gears

It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy

Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

The Parker Inheritance Sanity & Tallulah

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks

Small Spaces Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson

 

YOUNG ADULT

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge The Boneless Mercies

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M. T. Anderson, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

Boots on the Ground: America's War in Vietnam Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha, #1)

Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam by Elizabeth Partridge

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Darius the Great Is Not Okay Dry

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman

Hey, Kiddo The Light Between Worlds

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

On a Sunbeam The Poet X

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Pride The Prince and the Dressmaker

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Sadie A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

Sadie by Courtney Summers

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman

Truly Devious (Truly Devious, #1) The War Outside

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

The War Outside by Monica Hesse

A Winter's Promise (The Mirror Visitor)

A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos

Review: It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy

It Wasn't Me by Dana Alison Levy.jpg

It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy (9781524766450)

When Theo’s photographs are vandalized at school, he and five other seventh graders spend their spring break doing a Justice Circle. Theo is angry that he has to spend time with the people who may have ruined his photos but also scared that that person targeted him enough to also spoil his pinpoint camera project the next day. But as the Justice Circle works, the five of them discover ways to make new connections: sock puppets, yoga-ball soccer, and lots of candy. Still, as the end of the week nears, no one has confessed to being the vandal and Theo is getting more and more stressed. When one more of his projects is ruined that week, he is convinced he knows the perpetrator. But does he?

Levy’s middle-grade novel cleverly mirrors The Breakfast Club and yet also takes the format in a different direction by adding a mystery. Readers will quickly make assumptions about the different teens themselves. Was it the jock? The weirdo? The goody-goody? The invisible kid? The screwup? One of them has to be the culprit. Still, as the week goes on, readers will question those initial opinions and learn that there is more to each of the characters than a single label.

Strongly written and compellingly paced, this novel is a fascinating look at how justice can be done in a school setting without the use of detentions or suspensions. It asks readers to look deeply at the characters, to join Theo on his journey of learning about the others. As the characters reveal more about themselves, they become all the more human and interesting, and they might just become friends too.

A great novel about the complexities of being a seventh grader and the truths you hide. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Delacorte Books for Young Readers.

Review: The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson (9781338209969)

Marinka never asked to be a Yaga, but since she is the granddaughter of a Baba Yaga, she has been learning to speak with the dead and guide them through the Gate and into the stars. All Marinka really wants is to make a real human friend and do things that other twelve-year-olds do. Making friends is nearly impossible though when you live in a house with chicken legs that can move you all over the world overnight. So when Marinka gets another chance to make friends with someone, she takes it, even if it breaks all of the rules that she has been taught. As her decision changes her entire life, Marinka is left to figure out who she really is and what she wants to be.

Anderson has a clear love of Russian folktales, taking a beautiful view of Baba Yaga and giving her a larger community, more chicken-footed houses and a longing for family. The folktales at the center of the book continue to reverberate throughout the story, offering Marinka distinct choices. Marinka makes her own decisions though, ones that readers will not agree with though they might understand. As her situation grows direr, Marinka becomes almost unlikeable, and yet Anderson is able to bring us back to loving her by the end.

Anderson surrounds Marinka with a beautiful and rich world. There is her own Baba Yaga, filling the house with good cooking, lots of love and ghosts every evening. Then there is Jack, Marinka’s pet jackdaw, who sits on her shoulder and puts pieces of food in people’s ears and socks. A baby lamb soon joins them as well. Yet by far, the most compelling member of Marinka’s home is the house itself. Filled with personality and opinions, the house is intelligent and ever-changing.

A dynamic retelling of the Baby Yaga folktale, this picture book offers a big world of magic and ghosts to explore. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

Review: The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

The Unwanted Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (9781328810151)

This graphic novel tells the stories of Syrian refugees in their own voices. Based on interviews and visits to refugee camps around the region, the book clearly tells the story of the basis of the refugee crisis in Syria. As the flood of refugees begins and then continues, the nations taking in the refugees see sentiments in their populations shift to be anti-immigrant due to the overwhelming costs and disruption. Still, the refugees need a place to live in peace, a place to make a home and a place to feel safe.

Brown returns with another gripping nonfiction graphic novel. He uses the refugees’ own stories to really create a book that is heart-wrenchingly realistic. Young readers will benefit from hearing how the crisis began and will learn a lot about refugees, the dangers they face and the risks they are willing to take for freedom. The art in the book is done in limited colors, often filled with sandy yellows and deep browns. The faces of the refugees are compellingly depicted, often with expressions of deep fear, loss and grief.

A strong and important look at the Syrian refugee crisis in a format that makes the content very readable. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon (9781524715953)

After brothers Caleb and Bobby Gene get into trouble for trading their baby sister for a bag of fireworks, they are sentenced to a summer of labor alongside the boy who traded with them. Caleb is determined not to be an ordinary person in life, something his father seems obsessed with him staying at all times, even calling him extra-ordinary! So when Styx Malone enters their lives and offers them a way to trade the ill-gotten fireworks for something even better, the two brothers eagerly join him. But Styx is not telling them the whole truth about his life or even about the trades they are making. As the boys are pulled farther into Styx’s world, Caleb worries that it will all fall apart and that he will be left being just ordinary again.

Magoon has created a story that reads smooth and sweet, a tale filled with adventures and riotous action. At the same time though, she has also created a book that asks deeper questions about family, the foster care system, children in need, and what makes a good friend. Readers may not trust Styx as quickly as Caleb does, so the book also has a compelling narrative voice that is naive and untrustworthy. Even as Caleb, in particular, is drawn firmly into Styx’s plans, readers will be questioning what they are doing. It’s a great book to show young readers an unreliable narrator who is also charming.

The book has complex characters who all rise beyond being stereotypical. Even the adults in the book show glimpses of other sides that create a sense of deep reality on the page. Styx himself is an amazing character. He is clearly doing things on the edge of the law, hustling for deals and acting far tougher than he actually is. The moments where Styx shows his softer side are particularly compelling, like the hotdog cookout and seeing him interact with a father figure. Beautifully nuanced, these moments take this book from a madcap summer to a book that speaks deeply about being a child.

A top read of the year, expect to find incredible depth in this novel about friendship and family. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Wendy Lamb Books.