Category: Middle School

10 Great Books for Older Children on Bullying

While my “10 Great” series so far has focused only on picture books, I want to share some great books for older children as well. Here are some wonderful books about bullies and bullying to share in classrooms and families:

Better Nate Than Ever Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell

Friends for Life Garvey's Choice

Friends for Life by Andrew Norriss

Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes

Maxi's Secrets: (or what you can learn from a dog) My Heart Is Laughing

Maxi’s Secrets by Lynn Plourde

My Heart Is Laughing by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson

Pack of Dorks (Pack of Dorks #1) Wolf Hollow

Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Wonder Words in the Dust

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

 

Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught

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Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught (InfoSoup)

Dani’s grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s and is slowly reaching the end of her life cared for by Dani and her parents. So when her grandmother sends Dani on a mission to find a letter and key, Dani isn’t sure that it’s real. She discovers both the letter and key, then has to follow the trail of clues her grandmother left in her writing to discover the truth of a feud that her grandmother had with Avadelle Richardson, a novelist who wrote about a riot that happened at Ole Miss. It’s a riot that both Dani’s grandmother and Avadelle actually were caught up in. As Dani gets closer to the end of the trail, she finds more and more secrets and history and modern life begin to collide.

Vaught has written a taut novel that takes readers on a journey through Civil Rights history in Mississippi. Told through the eyes of Dani, the book is accessible to modern children and shows that racism is far from over. With our recent election, it is also a timely book that speaks to the deep-seated racism still at work in our country today. Vaught uses excerpts from Avadelle’s fictitious novel to show the historical context that the riot took place in. It does show how far we have come, but also speaks to how far we have to go.

The complex friendships of middle grade children are captured here, with Dani and her best-friend Indri sharing the adventure while her “not-friend” Mac, grandson of Avadelle continues to also be a part of it though at times the two are not speaking, just like their grandmothers. This modern division is a clever way to show how friendships change, shift and fall apart, something that mirrors what is seen in the novel and in the grandparents’ relationship.

A rich look at Civil Rights, racism and the decisions too big to be unmade, this novel is a timely look at today and our shared past. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

 

The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan

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The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan (InfoSoup)

I’m not really sure how to best review this work. It has a brilliant foreword by Neil Gaiman, who says, “Shaun Tan makes me want to hold these tales close, to rub them with my fingers, to feel the cracks and the creases and the edges of them.” The introduction by fairy-tale expert Jack Zipes states, “…Tan has transformed the Grimms’ tales into miraculous artworks that will move and speak for themselves.” I can only echo this sentiment, because the sculptures that Tan has created bring the Brothers Grimm stories into reality, make the solid and strange in a way that reading them doesn’t.

The sculptures are brilliant, showing aspects of familiar stories that bring new meaning to the tales but also revealing new and less familiar stories to readers and inviting them to indulge in more darkness and wonder. Turning the pages in this book is like a journey filled with gasps of disbelief and realization. New images are revealed on each page and so are the intimate hearts of the tales.

A stunning and brilliant series of sculptures with glimpses into the tales they represent. This book shows older children that the darkness of Grimm tales will still call to them. Appropriate for ages 9-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.

 

Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes

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Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes (InfoSoup)

All Garvey seems to do is disappoint his father. His father would like him to play sports and to enjoy them too, but Garvey isn’t athletic. He’d much rather read science fiction and learn about science. Feeling bad about himself, Garvey consoles himself with food and starts to gain weight. He has one friend, who encourages him to join the school chorus. Soon Garvey is making new friends and displaying his talent. He becomes the new soloist for the chorus and his interest in music starts to build a bridge to his father via a new route.

Told in verse, this book of poetry is brief and powerful. Garvey’s situation with his father reads a organic and volatile, the desperation to connect creating even more of a distance between father and son as the failures continue. Garvey’s use of food as a solace is intelligently done, offering hope that he can find his footing again but also not seeing weight loss as the ultimate solution or weight as the real problem. Verse allows Grimes to cut right to the heart of these situations, revealing the layers of issues at play.

Garvey is a bright, funny character. He is shown as a good friend, supportive and also accepting. As Garvey begins to reach out and try new things, he is rewarded by the chorus also reaching out to him. Again, the progress is done in a natural way. Nothing is perfect and there is no magical solution here. It is hard work, talent and slow progress towards a better place.

A shining look at loneliness, bullying and the ability of music to break down barriers. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

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Ghost by Jason Reynolds (InfoSoup)

Ghost learned to run fast thanks to running away from his abusive father who is now in jail. Still, Ghost keeps on running to escape the memories of his final night with his father and the truth of his family. When Ghost sees a group of teens running track, he thinks that he can outrun even the fastest of them. He races alongside the track and finds himself invited to join the team. Ghost through can’t afford the gear the other kids are using and also can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble long enough to focus on running at all. When Ghost makes another mistake and steals silver track shoes from a store while he is cutting class, he finds himself with yet another secret to keep bottled up. You can’t keep running away from problems and trouble though and soon they catch up with Ghost.

From the co-author of All American Boys and author of The Boy in the Black Suit comes this first book in a series about teens and the way track and being on a team affects their lives. This is a book that shines with hope throughout, even as Ghost is making the worst of his mistakes, there is still hope there. That hope comes from Ghost’s mother and from his new coach who gives him chances but also clarifies the new expectations that Ghost has to meet. It is that structure that allows readers to hope and root for Ghost as he negotiates his complex life.

This is a book that will be enjoyed by many children, not just those who enjoy sports or track. It will speak to them about transformation in their lives, opportunities that appear, and the hard work it takes to change and to trust. It is a book about friendships that deepen over time driven by becoming a new team together. It is a book about the power of positive adults in a child’s life and the power of belief in that child or teen.

Beautifully written, this is an accessible and powerful book about running towards the life you want. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.

 

Snow White by Matt Phelan

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Snow White by Matt Phelan (InfoSoup)

The Snow White tale is redone with a new setting and great villains in this graphic novel. Snow White’s mother dies in 1918 and she is left with her father who is the King of Wall Street. Soon after her mother’s death, her father falls for the Queen of the Follies, a performer who immediately sends Snow White away to school. When the stock market crashes, her father survives only to die suddenly. Snow White returns home to find that there is no place for her there, only to be rescued by seven small urchins on the street. Meanwhile, her stepmother takes her dire instructions from a ticker tape machine that orders her to KILL.

With all of the magnificence of the roaring 20s that then tumble into the Great Depression, this graphic novel version of the beloved tale truly rethinks the story and recreates it in a new and vivid way. Keeping true to core parts of the original story, this version has the wicked queen, a new version of the seven dwarves, the huntsman ordered to kill Snow White, and apples. Throughout there is darkness, violence and murder. Exactly what any great noir mystery needs.

If you have enjoyed Phelan’s previous graphic novels, he continues his use of watercolor in this book. Done in grays, blacks, blues and shot with touches of red, the art has a painterly feel to it that is unusual in graphic novels. There is a lovely roughness to the framing of the panels, giving the entire book a natural and organic feel.

A brilliant retelling of a classic tale, this dark story is a striking and brilliant departure. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

March: Book 3 by John Lewis

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March: Book 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (InfoSoup)

This is the final book in this amazing graphic novel trilogy. Congressman John Lewis concludes his story of the Civil Rights marches, providing real context to the Black Lives Matter movement of today. This book begins with the bombing of the church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four young girls. It shows the fight for the ability to vote in Alabama for African Americans who were forced to take tests or just ignored as they tried to register to vote. The book culminates with the march in Selma and the violence that accompanied it and most importantly the changes it created.

I can’t say enough good things about this series. It brings critical Civil Rights history directly to teens in a format that is engaging. There is no way to turn away from the violence of the response of those in power as blood flows in the images on the pages. It makes it all the more powerful that the marches stayed nonviolent and focused on pacifism. Lewis himself voices again and again how much pressure there was at times in the movement to react more violently and how that was managed by himself and others. It is a testament to people willing to put their own bodies and lives at risk for progress.

The illustrations are riveting. Done in black and white, they effectively play darkness and light against one another, adding to the drama of the situations they depict. At times they are haunting and blaze with tragedy. The opening scenes of the Birmingham church are filled with tension and sadness that make it difficult to turn the pages and witness what happens.

These are the books our teens need right now. Every public library should have this series, no matter what races are represented in your community. This is our shared history and one that we cannot deny or turn away from. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from library copy.