Category: Middle School

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.

 

 

 

 

 

4 Great Graphic Novels

5 Worlds The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel

5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel (9781101935880)

This is the first book in an epic new graphic novel series that promises lots of adventures across five different worlds. Oona Lee studies at the Sand Dancer Academy but she is known as a failed student. When an attack occurs, Oona knows she has to reach her older sister, who can actually sand dance and is the best bet for being able to light the Beacon. Along the way, she meets two other children who are willing to help her. There is An Tzu, a boy from the slums who is starting to disappear, literally. And Jax Amboy, one of the biggest athletes in the galaxy, who is also hiding his own secret. As the three join together, they set off on a wild ride of an adventure that reveals their secrets and their hidden skills.

This graphic novel is bright colored and full of surprises as readers learn about the new science fiction setting they are exploring. There are plant people, lots of bad guys, secret identities, intrigue and lies. It’s a wild ride of a graphic novel and one that is sure to please many young readers. Just make sure to get the second one in the series next year! Appropriate for ages 9-12. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Bolivar by Sean Rubin

Bolivar by Sean Rubin (9781684150694)

Bolivar is a dinosaur living in the bustle and crowds of New York City without ever being discovered. He doesn’t just stay at home, venturing out into the city to visit the used book store, see new exhibits at the museums, and buy a copy of the New Yorker. Then a neighbor girl notices that Bolivar is a dinosaur. Sybil tries to get the adults in her life to believe her, even giving a presentation at school about her dinosaur neighbor. No one believes her until one day, Bolivar gets a traffic ticket despite not having a car. He tries to set things straight, but it just gets more and more complicated until he is suddenly outed as a dinosaur by Sybil who then has to figure out how to repair things.

This graphic novel is brilliant. Clearly designed with a deep love of New York City, the neighborhood is captured with an eye for small details and invites readers to also fall for the great City. The ability of adults and humans to miss the fact that there is a dinosaur right in front of them is a great basis for a book and completely believable. The art is distinctive and inviting as is the humor and the pace. Pure joy in a graphic novel that will have you believing in Bolivar too. Appropriate for ages 6-9.  (Reviewed from library copy.)

One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale

One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale (9781419721281)

Strata, her brother and a friend from their caravan spend their days scavenging for technology and metals that have been overlooked by the alien Pipers. One day they discover a robot horse and then a hidden room filled with other robots and technology. The problem is that large areas of technology draw in the Pipers and soon they are being pursued for their discovery. Strata uses the robot horse to run with her friends, but the rough world outside that has been eaten away at by the invading alien Pipers makes for a daunting maze. Meanwhile, their families are searching for them as they discover another girl living a very different but equally dangerous life.

Hale has created an entirely unique science fiction graphic novel. He uses a very restrained color palette, allowing the golden robot horse to be some of the only bright color on the page. Using fine lines, grays and yellows, the story shows a devastated earth, the oppressors and a frightening future. Filled with great adventure and heroic young people, this is a story worth devouring. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (Review copy received from Amulet Books.)

Poppies of Iraq by Brigitte Findakly

Poppies of Iraq by Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim (9781770462939)

This graphic novel tells the story of the author’s childhood as a girl in Iraq. The book shares small glimpses of life in Iraq, schools, families and more. It is a lovely way to see a culture. Unfortunately, there is also state control as Saddam Hussein comes into power and things change. Throughout the book, there is a sense of history being shared as an adult, of a beloved land lost and a country so changed it is almost unrecognizable and yet filled with family still. The art is playful and light, a strong contrast to the often heavy subject matter. Religion plays a large part in the book as the author grew up in a Christian family in an Arab part of the world. Deftly written, this book invites readers into the author’s story and leaves them with a much deeper understanding of Iraq as a result. Appropriate for ages 12-14.  (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

 

 

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English

It All Comes Down to This by Karen English (9780544839571)

In 1965 Los Angeles, Sophie has moved to a new neighborhood as one of the only African-American families. Her summer is complicated not only by the move but by her sister leaving for college in August and her parent’s marriage becoming rocky. There are also external forces, like a pack of sisters in the new neighborhood who target Sophie and won’t let her swim with them. She does have one good friend, Jennifer, who stands up for Sophie and protests the way the others treat her. But racism is everywhere as Sophie discovers when she tries out for the community play, when she tries to shop in stores, and when she takes rides in cars with her sister’s boyfriend. When the riots in Watts erupt, Sophie discovers that the life in her wealthy neighborhood is not the one that others lead in the same city.

English, a Coretta Scott King Honor Award winner, brilliantly explores privilege and racism in this novel where Sophie lives a mix of both. The author directly looks at the color of skin, at the privilege given to those with lighter skin. She also explore wealth and the way that African-American families living in wealthier communities still face racism, both directly and indirectly. English’s pace here is very special with its mix of languid summer days, racial tensions, lack of parental involvement and then the riots.

Sophie is a well drawn protagonist as is her sister and her sister’s boyfriend. They each have distinct viewpoints, struggle with the expectations of family and society, and find themselves asking deeper questions about life in 1965. Sophie herself is often living in a bubble, but it is also one that is pierced regularly by the way others treat her. She is cleverly crafted, constantly learning and realizing how complex the world is.

This novel looks deeply into race in our country, offering a direct link between the Watts riots on today’s Black Lives Matter movement. It is timely, important and doesn’t offer easy answers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

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.