I’m back to reading! Two months of vestibular physical therapy did the trick. More or less. I’m still a bit wobbly on graphic novels but I know that my vision will get there.
Here are the recent middle-grade books I’ve been reading and can’t wait to tell you about.
New Beginning and Middle-Grade Chapter Books, June 2021
Pizazz by Sophy Henn (ages 7 – 10)
SUPERHERO / HUMOR / ILLUSTRATED
Illustrated with cartoons and fun fonts, this superhero story is perfect for 8 – 10-year-olds transitioning into middle grade! Our grumbly heroine is actually named Pizazz. Not only is her name embarrassing, but she’s also embarrassed about her superpower–which she won’t tell us about. Also, Pizazz hates how her superhero duties of saving the world come at most inconvenient times AND even if she’s tired, she still has to go to school! (So not fair.) At school, she is assigned the job of eco monitor which she dislikes until a classmate named Ivy helps her see that they might be able to save the park…without superhero powers. 100% fun, relatable, and entertaining.
Ninja Kid: From Nerd to Ninja by Anh Do (ages 7 – 10)
FUNNY / ILLUSTRATED
Nelson is a nerdy and likable main character who wakes up on his 10th birthday with perfect vision and… ninja moves! (How cool is that?) His mum and grandma explain that like his missing fisherman dad before him, Nelson is the LAST ninja in the world — and he’s actually destined to SAVE the world. Action-packed, funny, appealing illustrations, and likable characters, this book has it all. You won’t want to stop with book one either because there’s a bit of a cliff-hanger…
Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac (ages 9 – 12)
REALISTIC / VERSE
Because of the pandemic, Malin is sent away to live with her grandparents on the Wabanaki reservation. A rez dog named Malsum adopts her, becoming her ally and friend, which helps her adjust to living without her parents. When a government worker arrives to check on her, her new best friend Malsum scares her off. That’s when her grandparents teach Malin about the history of Native kids who were taken away by the government. Her grandparents share many other stories of their beliefs and history which help Malin connect to her heritage and feel her less sad about missing her parents, bothered with inconsistent Internet and school lessons, and feel less troubled about staying indoors. “And now, through the stories her grandparents were sharing, she was getting to travel in another way, feeling her spirit travel through time, being part of something so much older, so much deeper.”
The Republic of Birds by Jessica Miller (ages 9 – 12)
A Russian-flavored fantasy world where the human kingdom and bird kingdom are at war…and the human tsarina has banned Yagas and their magic. When Olga’s family is sent in disgrace to the edge of their kingdom, Olga discovers (to her horror) that she’s becoming a Yaga with magical map talent. When her younger sister is kidnapped by the birds, Olga leaves to find her sister, embracing her forbidden magic. Her dangerous journey won’t be easy — and if she uses too much of her magic, she’ll burn it out forever. Enthralling.
Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh (ages 10 – 12)
REALISTIC & HISTORICAL / KOREAN WAR
This incredible book packs a big punch because it sensitively and truthfully addresses depression, racism, family relationships, friendship, and strength to stand up against injustice as well as recounts the Korean War from the perspectives of two children, Junie’s grandparents. In the present day, Junie faces bullying and microaggressions, then her friends drop her for being too negative. Her sadness and fatigue lead to suicidal thoughts then medication and therapy. Even more helpful are Junie’s interviews with her grandparents, immigrants from South Korea who faced their war-filled childhood hardships with determination and courage. Her grandpa’s story helps Junie find her strength, helping her see that silence against injustice is complicity and that being a good friend is important. Moving, important, and beautiful. *SENSITIVE READERS: This book includes suicidal thoughts, the violence of war, and a couple of bad words.
The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh by Helen Rutter (ages 9 – 12)
REALISTIC / STUTTER
Billy Plimpton spends his days at his new middle school avoiding talking so that no one will hear his stutter. But, kids find out eventually and he becomes a target for a bully. However, his kind teacher helps Billy learn about the drums and Billy makes friends with other kids who hang out in the music room. When Billy’s teacher finds out about the bully, his solution is unexpected…and it works. Billy begins to believe in himself and believe he can be who his grandma always knew he is…culminating with a stand-up comedy performance at the talent show. Billy’s huge character arc shows that despite the challenges of a stutter, he can do anything he sets his mind to, in this funny, sweet, and empathy-building story.
The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga (ages 9 – 12)
REALISTIC / SCHOOL SHOOTING
Quinn and Cora used to be best friends but now, after a school shooting where Quinn’s older brother killed Cora’s older sister, the two no longer speak. Quinn feels guilty because she saw her brother with the guns and did nothing. She decides to find a wormhole to time travel backward and stop what happened. She invites Cora to help her; Cora, who feels so much regret at her last words to her older sister, and Cora agrees. The two work out their scientific hypothesis while they continue to try to make sense of what happened. This powerful story beautifully addresses grief, gun violence, friendship, family, and the complexity of love.
Firebird Song by Arnee Flores (ages 9 – 12)
If you like magical stories of hope overcoming fear with an epic quest, admirable protagonists, and interesting twists and turns, you’ll love this book. The Kingdom of Lyrica is controlled by the evil Spectress and her ash golems. When Prewitt learns there is a possibility that the long-lost princess is alive, he leaves his home to search for her. Princess Calliope doesn’t know she is a princess, only that she’s had to live underground on a magical barge, hidden from the world. Together, the two children follow the clues to find the missing Firebird’s feather and hopefully, save the kingdom from evil. You’ll love this magical adventure story of bravery, adventure, and overcoming terrible odds.
Flight of the Puffin by Ann Braden (ages 9 – 12)
REALISTIC / LGBTQ+
Four children share their personal stories–an artistic, kind-hearted girl whose dad is a bully, a boy who wants to help his school stay open, a homeless cisgender kid living on the streets, and a boy tormented by bullies because of his differences. Their stories weave together in a rich, beautiful tapestry with themes of connection, kindness, empathy, and bravery. As they navigate their lives and growing up, they find that no matter their family circumstances, the best way to live is to be connected and kind.
When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler (ages 9 – 12)
HISTORICAL FICTION / WWII
Inspired by the author’s family history, three friends from Vienna, Leo, Max, and Elsa, can’t imagine the direction their lives will take separating them by war, location, and ideology. Leo and Elsa are Jewish so their path includes ghetto housing, escape for one of them, and prison camp for the other. But, Max is not Jewish and his main goal is to get the approval of his brutal Nazi father. To do so, he gladly pursues Nazi beliefs and actions, despite the nagging voice that reminds him that his friends weren’t “dogs” or less than human. The story’s conclusion weaves together their stories in a heartbreaking, beautiful ending that will leave you with a lot to discuss about humanity, morality, hope, and love.