In no particular order, check out these amazing new 2020 middle-grade chapter books. This list contains mystery, historical fiction, survival, sci-fi, and adventure genres — lots of choices for every reader.
Middle-Grade Books, February and March 2020
Winterbone Home for Vengence and Valor
by Ally Carter
April is a foster kid invited to live at a fancy mansion with other orphans. There. she notices the same symbol that is on the key her mom left her. Could the key belong to this house? Then she discovers the home’s long lost missing heir lurking around the shadows and hiding in a secret part of the house. When she and her friends realize this new home is about to be acquired by a nefarious man, they are determined to solve the mystery of the heir, the key, and the house. If you like exciting, heartwarming mysteries, you’ll love this story.
Max grows up in a small village surrounded by a dangerous country of terror and persecution. He learns that his family members are secret Guardians who help people fleeing Abismo to safety, to Mañanaland. One day when his abuela and father aren’t there, Max volunteers to escort a small girl and her kitty to the next guardian –his first time and without permission. His goal is to find his missing mother who was one of the people fleeing the country. It’s a metaphorical and physical journey of self-discovery and coming of age. The amazing, nuanced story is about refugees, growing up, family, love, social justice, and storytelling and is filled with rich symbolism, lots of Spanish, and evocative magical realism elements. It’s multilayered, moving, and important.
Get a Grip Vivy Cohen
by Sarah Kapit
/ AUTISM SPECTRUM
What a page-turner! Vivy is a girl on the autism spectrum who loves baseball, particularly pitching knuckleballs.
The book is written as letters and emails between Vivy and her favorite baseball player, VJ Capello. Vivy writes to VJ all about getting to play on a team as well as making her first friend, pitching, and getting bullied by the coach’s son. When she gets hit in the head with a ball, her mom won’t let her play anymore. How can she convince her mom to change her mind when her mom won’t listen and Vivy gets overwhelmed with communication easily? It’s no surprise that this is an #OwnVoices book
because the story feels so real. It’s not just for readers who enjoy sports but for anyone who understands dedication to a passion.
I’ve been craving a good fantasy– and hooray, here is it. The Quest for the Crystal Crown is a funny, entertaining fantasy adventure that, believe it or not, also teaches kids how to write fantasy stories. Within the illustrations from time to time are meta conversations to the reader with instructions to read more on pages in the back of the book. (You’ll read more about all the topics involved in writing a fantasy from world-building to monster fights to endings and I guarantee, you’ll be impressed with the helpful guidance of the writing guide in the back.)
Laura and her friend Millie leave the safety of their walled village in order to save their village from the evil Hexors who will attack if they don’t get the missing Crystal Crown. With the help of a mage they meet in the first village, Dead End, the three kids embark on the quest of a lifetime. They’ll ride a Donkeycorn, meet a baby Troll who needs a nap, and disguise themselves as goblins. Of course, the Goblin King catches them and throws them in prison. But all is not lost. They find Laura’s long lost mother, perform a special spell, and escape. It’s not a happy ending yet until the twist is revealed and Laura sets things to rights. EXCELLENT — I loved the story, the writing, and the writing guide.
Exceptional! Korean American Pippa is a great basketball player but her guardian older sister won’t let her play unless her grades improve. When math tutoring (by the cutest boy she’s ever seen) leads to a scholarship at a prestigious private school, Pippa uses the new school to reinvent herself, hiding her background from the popular kids (not wealthy, from a rival middle school). While she’s figuring out who she is, she is mean to her best friend and other kids at her new school. Someone is watching and documenting it all, sending her threatening emails, then publishes the truth for the entire school to see. In a satisfying ending with valuable life lessons, Pippa decides to not be ashamed of her working-class family, her culture, or her friends. Girl readers, in particular, will be able to relate to the social hierarchy of middle school and the temptation to change yourself to suit others.
When Sara, a foster kid and hacker, gets in trouble again, her new so-called lawyer recruits her to be an MI6 spy. Sara joins a team of other kids, trains quickly, and is immediately sent undercover to break open a big case in Paris. I don’t want to spoil anything but I predict you’ll love every second of this action-packed story! It’s filled with great characters and an interesting twisty plot. You won’t be able to put this book down.
Wink by Rob Harrell
I highly recommend this funny, standout cancer story based on the author’s life for readers who like humorous but emotion-filled stories. When Ross is diagnosed with a rare kind of tumor, he immediately starts radiation treatment. School becomes pretty challenging because his eye is goopy, he has to wear a hat, and his hair starts falling out in clumps– among other things made funny with his cartoon drawings. A goofy, kind-hearted radiation tech gets Ross interested in alternative punk music and in order to impress a girl, Ross asks the tech for guitar lessons. Turns out, the guitar and his new music, help Ross both express his frustrations and find his joy, leading to some surprising results — like a new, unexpected friend. (Note: There are a few bad words.)
If We Were Giants
by Dave Matthews and Clete Barrett Smith
ALLEGORY / ENVIRONMENTALISM
Kirra lives secretly in a peaceful community within a dormant volcano. She’s training to be a storyteller like her father. But when she accidentally leads violent outsiders called Takers to her village, they burn everything until there’s nothing left of her village or her people. After falling into a river, she is rescued downstream by tree people where she lives in numbness for the next four years, trying to block out the memories. Unfortunately, the Takers arrive at her new home, too so Kirra must find her inner strength to convince her adoptive family and the other peaceful Tree Folks to fight back, work together, and be victorious. A compelling plot, an interesting main character, and valuable life lessons about community and the earth will keep readers actively engaged.
14-year-old Victoria sneaks aboard a ship with her father and younger brother bound for stinky, muddy San Francisco and the hope of gold. She’s surrounded by mostly men and no other kids and soon realizes that no one is getting rich but ships and people keep pouring in. Their dad leaves them in a tent for months while he searches for gold. Victoria makes the best of it but her 10-year-old brother doesn’t. Then he gets kidnapped and sold and Victoria and two friends race to rescue him. It’s an interesting, exciting story that gives readers a strong sense of setting and historical perspective.
Get ready for a wild ride of suspense, action, adventure, science fiction, and coolness!! Bloom is the story of three kids, maybe the only ones NOT affected by the strange-looking plants that appeared out of nowhere and are quickly taking over the world, covering houses and streets, swallowing animals and people. Scientists realize that the plants are actually the start of an alien invasion…and think these kids may be the only chance they have to stop it. To avoid spoilers, I’ll just keep my summary short and tell you that it’s AWESOME…and ends on a deliciously crazy cliff hanger.
The Queen Bee and Me
by Gillian McDunn
It’s a familiar story, when a new girl moves to town, middle school age girl named Meg realizes that her best friend, Beatrix, is not very nice.
Meg tries to balance making Beatrix happy with getting to know Hazel but she learns that you’re either for Beatrix or against her. Readers struggling with friendship issues of their own will glean insight and perspective reading Meg’s story of awareness and standing up for herself.
by J.L. Esplin
SURVIVAL / ADVENTURE
“Dad always said if things get desperate, it’s okay to drink the water in the toilet bowl.
” Isn’t this a great first sentence? An apocalyptic event has happened, there’s no electricity, the brothers are alone, and all their dad and their survival supplies were stolen at gunpoint. Now John and Stewart are on the road trying to get to a friend’s ranch for their supplies. It’s not going well–they’ve picked up a girl and her little brother not to mention Stewart is nonstop fighting with John. If you like survival stories, sibling stories, and adventure, this is a great choice.
When You Trap a Tiger
by Tae Keller
Lily, her sister, and their mother move in with her Halmoni (Korean for grandmother) but it’s not the same as before. Now her grandmother is sick at night and reveals to Lily that she stole stories from the tigers and they’re hunting her to get them back. Lily tries to make a deal with the tiger to save Halmoni, she doesn’t want her grandmother to die. This book celebrates Korean culture and storytelling and is about coming to terms with death and illness and knowing yourself so you can write your own stories.
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I love your concise reviews of the newest MG titles! The categories help to make recommendations and to share in my reading journal. Working on my own literary blog from the titles CYBILS just judged to be the best of 2019 in MG fiction. Will be interested in your opinion.
I’ll stop by to read your latest — the Cybils is such a great way to learn about all the newest books. 🙂