The impressive middle grade books I’m reviewing for January 2024 include historical fiction, realistic fiction, fantasy, funny, and a ghost story. I liked them and think your readers will, too.
As you know, I am a former teacher with a Master’s in Education and a passionate children’s literacy and book advocate. The books that I recommend are books that I’ve actually read and genuinely recommend for children. Thank you for reading Imagination Soup.
Middle Grade Books, January 2024
Shark Teeth by Sherri Winston
A deeply moving story of 12-year-old Sharkita, who has been in and out of foster care since she was three and is the primary parent for her two younger siblings, one of whom has special needs. Returning home from foster care, Sharkita hopes things will be different but is waiting for her mama to be herself again, leaving them alone for days and drinking too much. When her best friend convinces Sharkita to go out for twirling with the cool new Vice Principal coach, it’s the first time she’s done something for herself and not her siblings. Then, when the unthinkable happens, Sharkita’s life of constant crisis and debilitating anxiety is revealed…and maybe the worst thing ever will lead to something better.
The Girl Who Sang: A Holocaust Memoir of Hope and Survival written by Estelle Nadel, Sammy Savos, and Bethany Strout, art by Sammy Strout
HISTORICAL FICTION / GRAPHIC NOVEL
In this true story of the Holocaust, Enia lived a carefree life of family and singing in Poland. But everything changed when she was seven years old, and the Nazis came. The Nazis took her father, who was never seen again and the rest of her family fled into hiding. Kind neighbors hid Enia’s family in an attic, but soon, it was only Enia and her brother in hiding for several years. Despite deaths, betrayal, and years of hiding, Enia’s survival instincts carried her through. This is a beautifully crafted historical fiction graphic biography for ages 10+. It’s an emotional journey of survival, love, and hope in the most harrowing times. I highly recommend this graphic novel, now more than ever.
The Songbird and the Rambutan Tree by Lucille Abendadon
Set in the Dutch East Indies during World War II, this is a stunning based-on-a-true story about friendship, survival, grief, prejudice, and equity. Emmy’s best friend is Bakti, a Javenese boy whose mom cooks for Emmy and her dad. She’s shocked to learn Bakti’s angry because he can’t go to school and his support for the Japenese invasion. When the Japanese invade, they separate Emmy from her dad, and she’s sent to a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp for several years. As she survives the camp’s death and starvation and befriends her former enemy, she learns what’s important. It’s a moving story with an interesting history that I couldn’t put down!
Not Quite a Ghost by Anne Ursu
If you like slightly scary middle grade stories with ghosts about long-term illness and friendships, I highly recommend this new middle grade book! Violet gets sick as soon as her family moves into a fixer-upper where her room is musty, and the wallpaper comes alive. Violet’s friends and the doctors think she’s lying about her off-and-on sickness, but she’s not–some days, she is too tired to even get out of bed. Even worse, she can’t sleep after seeing a threatening ghost in the wall who wants to live in Violet’s body! With the support of her new friend Will, she enacts a daring plan to save herself. Later, Will’s pediatrician dad shows her that some doctors believe her — and it is possible to find answers and health!
K Is In Trouble written and illustrated by Gary Clement
If you like quirky, funny stories, you need to read this graphic novel about a boy named K. Poor K is always in trouble, no matter what he does. In these stories of everyday life, you’ll see that K is constantly misunderstood, and it’s hilariously absurd. I love the artwork — the dialogue text is big and readable, and the illustrations are appealing and fun.
The Bookshop of Dust and Dreams written by Mindy Thompson
HISTORICAL FICTION / TIME TRAVEL
I missed reading this in 2023, but the title caught my eye, so I started it and LOVED it. In this historical time-travel story, Poppy’s family’s magical bookshop is open to anyone from any time period if they need it! But it’s losing its magic. Dark creeps in, influencing the customers with anger and lies. Even worse, Poppy’s brother, Al, in his grief over his best friend’s death in WWII, is taken over by the Dark. And Papa is very sick. Poppy must save both the shop and her brother, but how? I loved this sweet, exciting, and unique story, and so will anyone who loves bookstores, stories with themes of good vs. evil, family, and awesome heroes.
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
ADVENTURE / MYSTERY
A reader recommended this 2014 middle-grade book — and I loved it as much as she did. Charles rescues a baby from a cello case after a shipwreck, names her Sophie, and raises her in an unusual way. But the authorities don’t like his parenting and will remove Sophie from Charles’ guardianship. But before that happens, she finds a clue in her cello case that takes them to Paris to find out who she is and if her mother is alive. There, she has rooftop adventures with a new friend named Matteo. He’s one of the street kids that live above the city. And he just might be able to help find Sophie’s mother. A marvelous, heartwarming adventure of brave kids, found family, and friendship.
Keeper of the Lost Cities Graphic Novel written by Shannon Messenger, adapted by Celina Frenn, and illustrated by Gabriella Chianello
FANTASY GRAPHIC NOVEL
It’s always weird to read a beloved novel adapted as a graphic narrative, told primarily in dialogue and art. I probably will always prefer the narrative Keeper of the Lost Cities, but this adaptation also works to share the story in the first half of the first book. Sophie learns she’s an ELF and from a different world. For her own safety, she must leave the human world and say goodbye to her family, whose minds get erased. Then, she’s placed with foster parents and enrolled in the fancy school for powerful elves.