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

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

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake (9780316515467)

Ivy’s family is displaced from their home when it is destroyed by a tornado. Ivy manages to save her pillow and her book of drawings, which have pictures of girls holding hands and looking into one another’s eyes. But at the emergency shelter at the school, she loses her drawings. Her family moves into a room at a Bed and Breakfast, but there are six of them in that single room and there seems to be no room for Ivy with her busy older sister and infant twin brothers. Then at school, someone starts to return her drawings to her one-by-one in her locker. Could it be June, the girl that Ivy has a crush on? Or maybe her best friend’s boyfriend who has talked to Ivy about her art? The drawings come with notes encouraging Ivy to talk to someone about her feelings, but will Ivy have the courage to do that?

Blake has created a middle-grade book that is warm and beautifully supportive. She shows being gay as just a piece of who Ivy is and twists her feelings about her sexuality up with how she fits in her family in general and the struggles of middle school friendships. Using Ivy’s art as a platform for her self expression works very well, and her artistic vision is presented as the way she sees the world as a whole.

Ivy’s complicated relationship with her family is presented with honesty, showing a family struggling to handle the loss of their home, young babies, busy lives and still manage to care for everyone. Ivy is shown as a creative and thoughtful character who struggles with telling people the truth, not just about her sexuality but also about her feelings in general.

A strong middle-grade novel about sexuality, families and friendship. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (9780553535327)

Ami has grown up on Culion, an island in the Philippines filled with people who have leprosy, like Ami’s mother. Ami loves her home, the others who live there with her, the kind nun who helps everyone out. But then things change and new government rules are implemented. Ami and her mother must be tested to see if Ami is also “Touched” with the infection. When Ami is declared to be free of leprosy, she is taken with the other children to a neighboring island and placed in an orphanage. Watched over by a cruel man who is terrified of disease and by extension hates the children from Culion, Ami slowly makes new friends, longing for news from home. After finding a letter withheld from her, Ami makes a desperate journey to see her mother once more.

Using butterflies as a beautiful metaphor throughout the book, one of strength and fragility, Hargrave has crafted a book that looks past the surface level of leprosy and deeply at the people who suffer from the infection and those who love them. Throughout the book, butterflies emerge from cocoons, appear suddenly and inspire those who see them, die at the hands of a collector, and eventually form a way of life. There is a resilience throughout this novel, a tale of overcoming not leprosy but expectations and limitations of all sorts.

The setting of Culion and the Philippines is brought lushly to life on the pages. From journeys through the jungle with its fruits, fish and streams to the coral reefs that tear at boats to the colony itself, each place is drawn with care. The setting is evoked through sounds, scents and sight.

A complex book that takes a deep look at grief, loss, courage and family. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Alfred A. Knopf.)

Brazen by Penelope Bagieu

Brazen by Penelope Bagieu

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu (9781626728691)

As young girls and teens, our society surrounds us with the history of men. This incredible graphic novel tears away at that myth, revealing the amazing women of history and today. Each woman is shown from their childhood and upbringing and then as the grand woman that they became and the impact their life had on the world around them. In this graphic novel, there are women of many races and cultures. There are trans women and queer women, women that you know already and others that are a thrill to discover. This book is a wonder.

Bagieu is a well-known French comic writer who started a project online that then turned into this compilation. The book is a delight to read, each chapter focused on one woman and told briefly and yet in a way that honors them and makes readers want to learn even more about them. There are world leaders here, actresses, artists of a variety of types, scientists, journalists and many many more. The art is fresh and just as feisty as the women the book explores.

A book for every public and high school library, this one is a must-read. Appropriate for ages 9-18. (Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.)

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender (9781338129304)

Released March 27, 2018.

Caroline lives on Water Island near St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. At age twelve, she has had enough bad luck to last a lifetime. She sees things that no one else can see, everyone at her small school hates her, and her mother has left. When a new girl starts attending Caroline’s school, Caroline is surprised to discover that Kalinda is willing to be friends with her. Caroline believes that Kalinda can see the same spirits that she can, so there is hope when the two girls start to search for Caroline’s mother together. But when Caroline starts to have deeper feelings for Kalinda, their friendship may be doomed before they solve her mother’s mystery.

Callender beautifully wraps this book in the setting of the U.S. Virgin Islands, making sure that readers know exactly where they are. Caroline takes a boat to school and back, knows the history of her small island and how slaves escaped to freedom there, and sees her father’s abandoned boat as a symbol of their capsized life without her mother. Throughout the novel there is mysticism present with Caroline’s visions that appear out of nowhere, including a woman that she isn’t sure is good or bad. The book is layered and complex, about many things and about life itself at its heart.

Caroline is equally complex. Reader will identify and empathize with Caroline even while she is prickly toward others. Caroline is confused and hurt, rejected by most of those around her and wary of building trust with others only to be tricked. Yet she is engaging, smart and interesting. An important element to this book is the friendship between Caroline and Kalinda and the way that friendship turns into a crush on Caroline’s part. This is gently shown and then dramatically plays out when others discover how Caroline feels.

Brilliant writing, a unique and wonderful heroine and lots of turmoil make this a gem of a read. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller (9781524715663)

With Mr. Neely as her very enthusiastic science teacher, Natalie can’t get out of asking a scientific question and exploring it using the scientific method. But Natalie would much rather get answers about her family, about why her mother won’t leave her bedroom anymore and how her father can stop being in therapist mode all the time. So when Mr. Neely encourages Natalie to compete in an egg drop competition, she knows that if they can win, things will change. Natalie’s best friend Twig is on their team, offering creative solutions for the egg drop and they also become friends with the new kid, Dari. As the three become closer, Natalie continues to try to figure out how to help her mother, putting together a plan for the prize money that they hope to win that will inspire her mother and get her back to normal. But life doesn’t always go to plan and neither do science experiments as Natalie soon discovers.

Keller writes with a lovely mix of humor and science throughout this novel. She looks directly at the subject of a parent’s chronic depression and shows the impact of that on a child and a family. Natalie steadily learns to find her voice in the novel and express her own pain about the situation. Science is used throughout the novel as a bridge between people, a way forward and a solution to problems.

Natalie as a character is beautifully conflicted. While she yearns to have her mother back she is also very angry about the situation, something that she has trouble expressing. Even with the friends she has, she worries about Dari joining her and Twig at various times particularly as Twig and Dari seem to have a special connection with one another. None of this is overly dramatized, but feels natural and emerges as convincing times of emotional stress.

Smartly written and filled with glowing characters living complicated lives, this middle grade novel unbreakable. Appropriate for ages 9-13.

(Reviewed from copy provided by Random House Children’s Books.)

Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz

Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz

Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renee Watson (9780374306106)

In this second middle grade novel by Shabazz, she this time focuses on her mother, Betty Shabazz, who would one day marry Malcolm X. Set during Betty’s childhood in the 1940s, this book explores Betty’s complicated relationship with the mother she was taken from at a young age. Betty was raised as a small child by an aunt but when the aunt died, Betty is  moved from the south to Detroit, where she lives with her mother and her mother’s new family. The book focuses on faith and community activism as Betty learns how to make her way with a mother who doesn’t show love or affection to her at all. As Betty’s connection to the community grows stronger, she finds people who care for her. She eventually joins the Housewives League and fights to support black-owned businesses in Detroit. Even though the novel is about just a few years in her youth, readers will clearly see Betty’s growth from young girl to a civil rights leader.

Shabazz and Watson together have created a book that soars. They firmly anchor Betty’s life in the 1940’s, surrounding them with the music of the time, the societal expectations in that time period, and small touches that make sure readers understand the implications of the time period. They also depict the richness of the African-American community in Detroit, the women who led organizations and endeavors, the strength of friendships that are built together with church and community, and the hope that it created for change.

Throughout the book symbols of oppression continue to remind readers that the 1940s was not a simpler time. A very young Betty witnesses the bodies hanging in trees after a lynching in the south. In Detroit there are riots when an African-American boy is shot in the back by police. These events echo through to the present and the Black Lives Matter movement, showing that while progress has been made there is still much to do.

A strong book that looks with clarity at the making of a civil rights leader. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis (9780545156660)

When Charlie’s father is killed in a freak accident, he and his mother are left destitute and unable to repay his father’s debt to their landlord. The two of them try to flee, but they are caught by Cap’n Buck, the overseer on the local plantation and a man who terrorizes people just for fun. To pay off part of his father’s debt, Charlie joins Cap’n Buck has he journeys north from South Carolina to Detroit to catch some thieves. At twelve-years-old, Charlie is as large as a grown man and no stranger to hard work. But the trip ends in a situation that Charlie was not expecting, with escaped slaves who have built a life in the north. Charlie doesn’t have a lot of choices in life, but perhaps one last decision will make all the difference for him and others.

The Newbery Award winning Curtis writes with such skill that it is impossible not to fall deeply into his stories and become immersed in the world he builds. Here, the strong South Carolina dialect that Charlie and Cap’n Buck speak in helps to strengthen that world building, creating a strong tie to the region and historical setting with language alone. The historical setting is clearly drawn, including the city of Detroit as well as the communities in Canada. These elements are critical because of the slave laws between the United States and Canada that are such an important part of the story.

I fell hard for Little Charlie, a boy who has no education, lives in dire poverty, and whose family has steadily lost everything. There is something about him, about the way he sees the world. He has an optimism that carries him forward each day, not one that is blind or overly ambitious, but a cautious optimism that things can be different. It’s that nature that allows what he does in the book to make sense and not be out of character. Curtis has drawn a character who is an unlikely hero unless you know him well.

Beautifully written and structured, this middle-grade novel is an important look at personal choices and the power of doing what is right. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Scholastic and Edelweiss.

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor (9780062491497)

Released January 23, 2018.

Mason is the biggest kid in his grade and it doesn’t help that he’s also the sweatiest. To make matters worse, he has dyslexia and trouble with reading and writing. His family has gone through a series of tragedies with his mother dying and then his best friend falling out of a tree house in Mason’s family orchard. Since his death, Mason has been trying to tell the police his side of the story, but he can’t write it down and the officer interrupts him and makes it all confusing. Now Mason has a new best friend, one he made when running from the neighborhood bullies who throw balls and apples at them as they get off the bus. The two create a club house for themselves in an abandoned root cellar behind Mason’s house. But trouble seems to find Mason, and soon there is a a new tragedy to overcome.

Connor writes books that soar and are completely heartfelt, this book is another of those. Connor looks at what grief does to a family, the time that it takes to recover and what happens when a series of incidents occur to the same family and they can’t return to normal. Still, there is hope in every day things. There is hope in the clean kitchen, NPR playing, banana milkshakes. There is hope in good dogs, new friends and people surprising you. Connor’s book shines with that hope, despite the clutter of their life, the dirt on the carpet, the laundry on the floor.

Mason too shines with hope and honesty. He is an unlikely hero with his size and his sweat. And yet, readers will immediately see beyond that. They will see Mason as a friend and a source of protection and care. Readers will also figure things out well before Mason does, including the fact that he is suspected of contributing to his best friend’s death.

Filled with heart and hope, this is a wonderful read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Harper Collins.

2017 Top Middle Grade Fiction

Aminas Voice by Hena Khan

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Filled with important questions for our modern world, this middle-grade novel sings with a voice all its own.

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

This is a beautifully written and deep novel for middle grade readers who will long to visit Crow’s island themselves.

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

Filled with adventure, wilderness and plenty of icky moments, this is a gripping and fabulous look at the Amazon.

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

A masterpiece of fantasy writing, this book is rather like the True Delicacies of the novel, something that may change your life forever.

Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker

Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker

A dynamic mix of LGBT, science fiction and growing up, this novel is entirely unique just like its main character.

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C Perez

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez

A fresh and fun new read that blends Mexican Americans with punk rock in a winning formula.

Forest World by Margarita Engle

Forest World by Margarita Engle

Another adept verse novel from a true master, this is a book that explores home, habitat and family.

Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

An intelligent adventure of a book that is about friendships that seem impossible but happen anyway.

one-last-word-by-nikki-grimes

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes

Masterful, skilled and very timely, this book of poetry elevates us all and sings to the skies that African-American children are valuable and vital in this world.

Patina by Jason Reynolds

Patina by Jason Reynolds

Every public library should have this series on their shelves. It will run right off the shelves.

The Song from Somewhere Else by A. F. Harrold.jpg

The Song from Somewhere Else by A. F. Harrold

A novel that combines horror and fantasy into one dark summer, this book is simply amazing.

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh

A great pick for fans of Ghostbusters or scary stories, I look forward to more adventures with these characters.

Stealing Our Way Home by Cecilia Galante

Stealing Our Way Home by Cecilia Galante

Beautifully written and intelligently crafted, this novel is a remarkable look at grief and families.

Tumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley

Tumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley

A vibrant and strong story of failure and heroism.

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

A sequel that is just as good as the first, get this into the hands of fans.

When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost

When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost

A beautiful verse novel that captures summer days on a lake and a family becoming stronger.

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

This mix of magic, technology, mysteries and ciphers is exceptional and just right for summer reading.