11 Must-Read Middle Grade Books of Fall 2018
HISTORICAL FICTION / MAGICAL REALISM
Set in Victorian London, this is a beautiful, bittersweet story about a plucky girl and her protector golem which in the telling, illuminates the horrifying lives of chimney sweep kids as well as the world’s anti-semitism. It’s a book that reminds me of bitter dark coffee ladened with sweet cream — the bitter being the girl’s hard circumstances and the sweet being the hope that comes from love and friendship. I loved it so much I already want to read it a second time! Young Nan’s Sweep father-figure is gone; she still dreams of his kindness and their life before he left. To survive, she works for a cruel chimney sweep. When another child sweep tries to burn Nan alive, a charcoal golem, formerly a piece of charcoal left to her by Sweep, emerges to save her. She and her growing protector golem, Char, find a new place to live but must stay vigilant so her old master doesn’t find them. On their own, they are helped by a street boy and a kind Jewish teacher. It’s an irresistible story that will expand your heart…and your definition of what makes a monster.
Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
What a luminous, sparkling gem of a book with quirky, complex characters! Granny drags Louisiana out of bed in the middle of the night, insisting that they leave their home to confront the family curse. Not only does Louisiana not want to leave her friends and home, things get even worse when Granny abandons Louisiana at a motel along the way. Forced to fend for herself, Louisiana figures out how to survive miles from home while worrying that the family curse has destined her for an unhappy life. Don’t miss this enthralling, emotionally resonant story.
No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen
REALISTIC / HOMELESSNESS
Felix doesn’t want to tell anyone that he’s been living in a van for months and months. His mom, Astrid, is worried about social services taking him so he keeps quiet even though he really wants a bathroom. His hope is that he can win his favorite TV game show so they’ll finally have enough money to get an apartment. One of the things I loved about this story is how it shows a child’s love for a parent despite all the parent’s flaws–and his mom has many! Lying and not holding down a job, for example. It also depicts homelessness as circumstances beyond a child’s control — which is something most kids don’t know or think to consider. This well-written book is beautiful, important, and highly recommended. (Added to Books That Facilitate Empathy: Poverty)
The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden
REALISTIC / POVERTY
This is a well-written story with an emotional poignancy about poverty and relationships that I couldn’t put down. Zoey is trying to stay hidden to survive her life but it’s not easy. She and her siblings live with their mom’s newest boyfriend in his trailer. She cares for her siblings while her mom works, avoiding making a mess or too much noise. A kind teacher at school persists with a reluctant, trying-to-stay-hidden Zoey, encouraging her to try debate club. It’s this activity that eventually gives Zoey the courage and perspective to talk to her mom about everything — from her mom’s boyfriend’s belittling to her own friend getting threatened with a gun. That conversation changes everything for their family for the better… I hope this book encourages kids to consider what makes a healthy relationship and how to stand up for yourself when you’re not in one. (Added to Books That Facilitate Empathy: Poverty)
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Harbor Me tackles some very big issues including race, immigration, bullying, learning differences, friendship, and forgiveness. The story is about six diverse children with learning differences. They bond during a special kids-only time on Friday afternoons where they share their stories, many of which Haley records on a tape recorder. Even as she learns about the other kids who are, Haley is reluctant to share that her own dad is in jail for the car accident killing her mother. When she does eventually share, it’s beautiful to see the other kids support her. This incredible story deserves to be not just read but discussed deeply as it contains a wealth of ideas to ponder. Such as what does it mean to “harbor” someone? Amazing!!
Black Beauty Puffin Graphics + (The Graphic Novel and Original Text in One Volume) by Anna Sewell
Puffin Books is releasing children’s classic novels as graphic novels like this one along with The Wizard of Oz. I enjoyed the story in graphic format, finding it very close to the original text. This book contains both the story in graphic novel form as well as the original narrative text in the second half. It’s a fantastic way to introduce kids to classic novels, don’t you think? Read the graphic novel, then read the original text!
The House in Poplar Wood by K.E. Ormsbee
Lee and Felix are twins separated, each lives with one parent and can’t see the other due to The Agreement of their parent’s servitude to the shades of Death and Memory. Not only that, but they’re next in line to work for the shades. Unexpectedly, they get help from the daughter of the mayor and a supposed enemy, Gretchen Wipple. Together they realize that by sharing information, the boys may have a chance to break The Agreement.
The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser
This is a sweet story for previous fans of this close-knit family. When their beloved neighbor has a stroke and must stay in the hospital, the kids decide to make a garden for their plant-loving friend in an old lot near the church.
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