Longer, more involved stories, few or no pictures: signs of a strong, independent reader. Isn't it great to get lost in a good book? Harry Potter, anyone?
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is absolutely just as charming as such a title might suggest. Alice in Wonderland meets Lemony Snicket, this is a great book to read alone or aloud, as there are lots of allusions that the younger ones may not get, but the parents certainly will (and enjoy it all the more for it).There is so much imagination within these pages, including fairy tale references from across many different cultures. If the title isn’t enough to make you want to pick this one up, hopefully the captivating storytelling and inspired new way of spinning a classic fairy tale will be.
Which Witch? is a modern classic, incredibly clever, and with such a fun plot. Hilarious and charming, it's great to read this one aloud! You can't forget this cast of characters, from an elderly witch with a habit of turning herself into a coffee table to a sarcastic three-headed beast who does nothing but sit and watch. If you love Roald Dahl, you will adore Eva Ibbotson.
Max Gordon’s father has gone missing; then someone tried to kill Max. With only one clue, Max must use all the resources and training his secret agent father taught him. From England to Africa, he gets help from Kallie, a bushpilot with experience beyond her years, and !Koga, a Kalahari Bushman who helps Max in order to become a man in the eyes of his tribe. Can these three teens stop an evil man trying to control all the water on the African plains, save Max’s father, and fulfill a Bushman prophecy? Think teenage James Bond, with plenty of high tech gear, action, and adventure.
I was always taught the adage, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything." That advice, unfortunately, is not the precept that is predominant in this must-read story of middle school bullying. The power of words, both verbal and written, to humiliate and isolate is a poison that seems to have no antidote until one unlikely heroine finds her voice. Undoubtedly, one of the best middle grade titles of the year for readers 11+. - Cindy
Keeping secrets and feeling guilty about those secrets can be an emotional roller coaster. Nora blackmailed her cousin Riley into riding the wooden coaster at Coney Island and now Riley is in ICU after suffering a stroke the experience induced. Without unnecessary drama, the once close relationship between these cousins is threatened as Riley struggles to recover and Nora bears the burden of blame. An honest look at friendship in the midst of tragedy for readers 10+. - Cindy
This touching story of family devotion and sacrifice is an oasis of compassion in today's landscape of conflict and self-centeredness. Set in China during the Cultural Revolution, it is the tale of a simple poor family whose mute son wants nothing more than to comfort and care for the orphaned daughter of an artist who has disappeared and is feared dead. A celebration of the essential goodness of people, especially those who appear to have the least, made my heart happy. A wonderful choice for readers looking for a book that is honest yet uplifting. Perfect for fans of Grace Lin and Linda Sue Park. Ages 9+. - Cindy
The mystery of this story – nine children living alone on an island with no memories of their past and no knowledge of their future – immediately intrigued me. The green boat will once again appear on the horizon, bringing a new child to this isolated place and taking the eldest away. A tale about growing up, Orphan Island explores the emotional roller coaster of saying good-bye to childhood and facing the risks of life's future. With characters whose thoughts, emotions, and conflicts reflect the challenges of choosing the path each will follow, Orphan Island is an intriguing book that will leave you with as many questions as answers. A wonderful choice for fans of Kate DiCamillo and Lauren Wolk. Ages 10+. - Cindy
I adored Lauren Wolk's Newbery Honor title, Wolf Hollow, and thought it would be very difficult for her to write another story with the same depth of character and emotion. Amazingly, this author has met and surpassed this challenge with Beyond the Bright Sea. Twelve year old Crow loves Osh, the independent island man who rescued her from a rickety skiff when she was hours old, but she now yearns to know the truth of her birth parents. Is she a child of Penikese Island and the lepers who had been confined to this windswept bit of land, a connection that the people of Cuttyhunk Island adhere to, causing them to avoid contact with her? With the help of Osh and Ms. Maggie, Crow is determined to fill in the blanks of her beginnings. How can she know who she is unless she knows from whom she came? Set in 1925 on the Elizabeth Islands off Massachusetts, Beyond the Bright Sea is an exposition of family and personal identity that you will not soon forget. If you read only one middle grade novel this year, this literary gem must be your choice. Ages 10+. - Cindy
Sally Jones is the kind of friend we all need - loyal, resourceful, determined, and able to keep her mouth shut! Of course, she is also a gorilla and the narrator of this classic adventure. With an old world charm and fabulous black and white illustrations, The Murderer's Ape is one of the most unique tales I have ever read. Whether living in Lisbon with the poor but talented Ana Molina, making musical instruments in the workshop of Signor Fidardo, or playing chess with an Indian majaraja , Sally Jones will never give up her quest to free the unjustly imprisoned boat captain and her best friend, Chief. The story of an extraordinary creature that you soon forget is not human, this book is sure to become a favorite! It's already one of mine. Ages 10+ . - Cindy
This short but very powerful tale by master storyteller Michael Morpugo is disturbing and yet intriguing. Could a compassionate, brave and highly decorated soldier who made decisions based on always doing what was right have been in any way responsible for the future atrocities of Adolf Hitler? I particularly loved the way that this story is told - an older passenger telling it to a fearful young boy stranded in a train in a dark tunnel. Captivating historical fiction for ages 10+. - Cindy
An American boy and a grief-stricken German girl struggle to make their way through a web of lies enveloping the secretive, spy-filled city of East Berlin in 1989. Why have Jonah's parents brought him to this dangerous place and what is the truth about the death of Claudia's parents? Unable to trust what they are being told by parents or a grandmother, this determined duo wades through the ever-present fog of fear and isolation, secure only in their friendship as they struggle to get the answers they need. A superbly written piece of historical fiction, Cloud and Wallfish is a work of authentic emotion whose characters become so much a part of you that you cannot leave their world until the truth is known. Ages 10+ . - Cindy
A book that the world needs to read, Ms. Bixby's Last Day is an affirmation of the immeasurable difference that the "Good Ones" can make in a life. Told in alternating chapters by Steve, Brand, and Topher, it is a story about friendship, the power of a teacher, and the challenge of facing grief with strength and hope. With touches of humor, each boy reveals elements of himself and Ms. Bixby's imprint as the trio respond to her illness. A perfect choice for fans of Because of Mr. Terupt, this book will spur you to profess and practice the doing of "good things" and to leave your footprint on the paths of those with whom you are making the journey of life. For readers 11 and up. - Cindy
The thrill of discovering a well-written, challenging but not frustrating, middle grade mystery can be elusive so I was ecstatic to read James Ponti's Framed! A T.O.A.S.T. Mystery! Main characters, 12 year old Florian Bates and his new best friend and classmate Margaret Campbell, have a relationship built on a shared curiosity about all of the "small things" around them and a commitment to be there for each other. As they work to solve the mystery of an art theft at the National Gallery of Art, Ponti's narrative reveals two realistic and totally likeable young sleuths with a very unique way of interpreting the clues many of the professional crime-solvers overlook. A book that grabbed me from the first paragraph and never let go, Framed! is a must read for every mystery lover. James Ponti is truly a master of the genre. Ages 9 and up. - Cindy
Set in a fictional time and place, Beautiful Blue World shows the fears and destruction of war through the eyes of a child. Twelve year old Mathilde yearns to help her family, friends, and country survive the onslaught of the enemy Tyssian air attacks. Her assumptions about this enemy are challenged, however, when she is chosen to help the war effort by visiting and talking with a young Tyssian prisoner of war. Her realization that “every person matters” and the truth that all people are more alike than different resonated with me long after I finished the book. Age 11+. - Cindy
Ten-year old Beans Curry, brother Kermit and chums Pork Chop and Ira survive the sweltering summer of 1934 in Key West by defending their “king of the hill” marble-playing status and figuring out ways to make some money in their town which has been hit hard by the Depression. Jennifer Holm's ability to create a cast of characters so colorful and authentic that you immediately feel a part of their lives and a small-town setting that you would swear you have visited shines through in this companion to Turtle in Paradise. Its themes of family, friendship, and the power of community are peppered with humor and mischief and will appeal to boys and girls ages 9+. I loved it – think Opie Taylor and Mayberry in south Florida! - Cindy
With simple words and honest emotion, this story of three girls determined to make their lives whole and happy again really touched my heart. Raymie, Louisiana, and Beverly need different things but each refuses to relinquish the hope that fuels her effort to make life feel right again. In the vein of Because of Winn Dixie, Raymie Nightingale is an inspiring story of unexpected friendship and perfect for readers age 10 and up. - Cindy
The fundamental desire for truth to be revealed and justice to prevail is personified in Wolf Hollow's protagonist, 11 year old Annabelle. Exposing the true nature of newcomer Betty Glengarry and defending the odd and somewhat scary war veteran Toby, Annabelle displays an emotional continuum that is wide and deep. She is compassionate yet filled with a yearning for revenge that she struggles to control. For me, the genuine, positive bond that she has with her parents was a particularly welcome change from the many dysfunctional families of children's literature. Wolk's memorable characters and the twists and turns of her story are so satisfying that I have already read this book twice! This book is an absolute must-read. Readers 10+. - Cindy
John Boyne's story of the transformation of a young, sensitive boy whose best friend is Jewish into a teen who will do anything to curry the favor of Adolf Hitler provides historic insight into the timeless and complex themes of personal identity and accountability. To what extent can and should an individual who is subjected to intense ideological propaganda be held responsible for the behaviors that result? An unforgettable book from the author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas that begs the question “If we do not learn from the past, are we destined to repeat its mistakes?” - Cindy
Charlie Han, a 14-year-old very short Chinese-American boy is teased at school about his small stature and his very over-protective mother. He is determined to find something that he can excel at and, with the help of his one friend, a large-nosed boy nicknamed "Sinus", becomes determined to master skateboarding. Keeping this new passion a secret from his mother, terrified that Charlie will get hurt doing almost anything physical, proves challenging but when Charlie unexpectedly learns the reason for her fears, his understanding of his mom and himself grows by leaps and bounds. A story with humor, friendship and family that will not soon be forgotten. - Cindy
Which is more difficult - to master all the skills of a squire on the path to knighthood or to fit into a public middle school when you are a not-so-typical girl who has been homeschooled all her life? Author Victoria Jamieson's young Imogene must, in fact, conquer both of these challenges in this timely graphic novel. More at home at the Renaissance fair her family has worked at for years than in the confusing world of middle school, spunky Impy is determined to figure out the rules and relationships and feel right at home in both worlds. I loved her sweet but somewhat naive spirit and was in her corner through all the twists and turns along the way. A delightful choice for readers 9+. - Cindy
How does she do it? Sheila Turnage's Mo & Dale Mysteries just get better and better (and when you start with Three Times Lucky as a base, that's saying a lot).
Mo, Dale, family and friends are back and dealing with trouble close to home. Dale's no-good daddy is on the run, and Tupelo Landing, NC is suffering a serious and escalating crime spree. Is Dale's belief in his dad's innocence overoptimistic?
As always, lots of humor and charm infuse Turnage's crackling good tales. Ages 9+. - Rosemary
The conclusion to The Books of Beginning trilogy is bittersweet. I had to race to the end to find out what happens to the characters I've come to love, but dreaded saying goodbye. As always, Stephens recaps past events well, and weaves a fast-paced tale with both beloved friends and new allies and enemies. This set ranks at the top of children's fantasy series, and is a must read for Harry Potter and Phillip Pullman fans. Ages 9+. - Rosemary
A charming and magical adventure about a 12-year-old girl named Twig, red moons, pink apple pie and a 200-year-old spell! Mysterious but not too scary, this sweet, enchanting tale is ultimately about acceptance, forgiveness and love. Ages 10+. - Abbe