Impressive New Realistic Middle-Grade Books
Emmy in the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido
REALISTIC / STEM
I loved this novel in verse so much that I’m adding it to my best books of 2019 list. It’s an exquisite book that celebrates music, STEM, making friends, and growing into yourself. Emmy’s eager to start a new school and make friends but she’s thwarted by rudeness at every turn. A daughter of professional musicians, Emmy decides to accept that even though her entire life is music and she lives for music, she’ll never be a musician herself. So for an elective, she takes computer programming instead of music. A girl in her programming class named Abigail is friendly but only during class. Which makes Emmy feel both good for that little attention but angry at being kept a secret. As Emmy’s family adjusts to San Francisco, Emmy figures out her place in the world, especially as it relates to her growing love for programming. Lucido skillfully connects music and programming in a memorable, poetic story that even non-programmers can understand.
Added to: The Best STEM Chapter Books for Kids Ages 8 – 12 and Best Books in Verse That Get Kids Reading.
For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington
RACE / ADOPTION / REALISTIC
Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya
REALISTIC / LEARNING DIFFERENCES / PREJUDICE
Added to: Best Middle Grade Books about Learning Disabilities / Learning Differences
Added to: Best Chapter Books About Characters Who Have a Mental Health Illness
Roll with It by Jamie Sumner
PHYSICAL DIFFERENCES / REALISTIC
This meaningful story will tug at your heartstrings. It’s narrated by Ellie a girl who loves to bake, who has CP, cerebral palsy, and who rolls through life in a wheelchair. She hates having an aid at school who’s supposed to help her with everything, even going to the bathroom. When her mom moves them to Oklahoma to help care for her grandfather, even though she’s from the so-called wrong side of the tracks, she makes friends with other trailer park kids — the first friends she’s ever had. It’s a sweet story about taking risks, the importance of finding your tribe, and growing up. I appreciate that the author skillfully shows readers that kids in wheelchairs are just like everyone else but with different challenges like accessibility (where your chair can go) and getting dressed. Highly recommended.
Added to: Best Children’s Books with Characters Who Have Physical Differences
Focused by Alyson Gerber
REALISTIC / ADHD
Clea is a chess-loving girl who gets distracted easily (except when she hyper-focuses in chess) and it’s becoming a problem, especially in school but also with friends. She’s resistant to do the testing her parents want, refusing to believe she could have ADHD. But blurting out things and living with regret, she feels like she’s not in control. As she learns more about her brain, she realizes that she can figure out strategies to help her keep focused. Readers who don’t have ADHD will get a glimpse into the way this kind of brain works. It is exactly like what my oldest daughter who has ADHD tell me it’s like with thoughts bouncing all over the place. Important and insightful.
The Hero Next Door edited by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
REALISTIC / SHORT STORIES
Teachers, you’ll want to buy this book of short stories to use in your classrooms for your writing and reading workshops. You’ll find excellent writing and impactful stories like “Home” by Hena Khan that shows a sister with mixed feelings about her newly adopted brother. Or “Rescue” by Suma Subramaniam about a mother and daughter escaping abuse leaving behind their beloved dog. The short stories, all written by writers with diverse voices and cultural perspectives, gift us characters whose actions make the world a better place; they’re everyday heroes who feel scared and have challenges, too but whose actions show bravery and kindness. Parents and librarians, this book belongs in the hands of kids who like to read in short chunks, or who need to see themselves reflected in stories, or who need to journey outside their insulated world.
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, & Steven Scott, illustrated by Harmony Becker (ages 10+)
HISTORICAL MEMOIR / GRAPHIC NOVEL
A must-read, must-add-to-all middle and high school classrooms book! Both history and memoir, this is an essential story that takes place during WWII when the US government declared war on Japan and subsequently all Japanese people, forcing anyone of Japanese descent, including children, into detention camps…George’s family leave behind a two-bedroom house in Los Angeles, taking only what they can carry. They are transported first to a cramped, smelly horse stable and then to a bare-bones, overcrowded barracks surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.
George and his brother adapt well –mostly because they have amazing parents but this story also shows the reality for the adults in their new, unfair situation. It shows George’s parents’ resiliency and perseverance. Honestly, there are so many important details about what was happening politically as well as what daily life was like but too many to share in this review.
When World War II ended, leaving the camps isn’t an easy, happy ending for any of the detained families. As you can imagine, they have nothing– no jobs nor bank accounts and are returning to a world of prejudice.
The narration jumps to present-day events, showing similar human rights violations such as the current detainees and separation of families which powerfully connects how we are even now facing grave injustices against human rights.
George is very clear how much credit and honor his father deserves in getting their family through what they experienced. He emphasizes that his father always believed in American democracy despite what happened because it is a government of people — and people can step up to make things better. Which George has done with his own advocacy work. And we can, too.
Some More Than Others by Renée Watson