If you like adventure, don’t miss The Hacker’s Key and The Canyon’s Edge. If you love animals, you’ll want to read A Whale in the Wild and The Endangereds. If you like amazing, real-life books, you’ll want to read Tune It Out, Fighting Words, and The Brave.
Full disclosure, I have more books in my to-read pile so I’ll be writing another new books post soon, with even more good books.
As always, purple stars indicate my favorites, must-read books that will be on my best of 2020 list.
New Middle Grade Books! (September 2020)
Tune It Out
by Jamie Sumner
/ FOSTER CARE
I think you’ll love Lou’s story as much as me — it’s a beautiful character arc, the most authentic portrayal of SPD in middle-grade literature that I’ve read, and an un-put-downable, heartfelt story.
12-year-old Lou and her mom live in a truck. While her mom works as a waitress, Lou hangs out or sings for money, living her mom’s dream even though Lou dreads performing, it makes her extremely anxious. One evening, underage Lou drives in a snowstorm to pick up her mom from work and gets into an accident and Lou gets out in foster care with an aunt she’s never met. In her new home, Lou goes to a fancy private school where, after a fire drill meltdown, she’s assessed with Sensory Processing Disorder. She starts to get help with an occupational therapist and a sensory diet, understanding herself better, and learning to trust her kind aunt and uncle. Her situation is complicated and imperfect which feels completely authentic.
Brubaker Bradley, the author of The War That Saved My Life, skillfully writes about the most difficult topic that too many children face–sexual abuse. And she does it in a way that is heartbreaking and hopeful and horrifying and powerful. Initially, when reading this book, I thought, how can I recommend this beautiful book about such a horrible thing to tween readers? Here’s what I learned along with the main character, Della that helped me see why this book is so important to share with children…THIS HAPPENS TO MANY, MANY KIDS. AND THEY THINK THEY ARE ALL ALONE. BUT, THEY ARE NOT ALONE. 10-year-old Della, the main character, is shocked when her therapist tells her that sexual abuse happens to other kids, too. Kids in her class. Why do kids like Della need to read a story about sexual abuse? Because victims need to know that 1) they are not alone, 2) it is not their fault, 3) they can get safe, and 4) they can heal. And, other kids need to 1) have compassion, 2) become aware, and 3) know they can get help for other kids.
Della’s drug-addicted, psychotic mom is in jail, and now Della and her older, caretaker sister named Suki, are in foster care with a woman named Francine. They’re not necessarily loved but they are safe. As Della’s story unfolds, we learn that Suki saved her from the mom’s boyfriend, Clifton, with whom they lived for years, even when her mom was in jail. We suspect Suki was also abused but we don’t know until much later in the story after her suicide attempt. When both girls start going to therapy, Della learns strategies for anxiety that sometimes work. She starts to hope that she and Suki’s brains can heal from the trauma they’ve experienced. We see this progress at school where, instead of lashing out and punching someone or swearing (all the swear words anyone says she writes as “snow”), Della uses her voice to stop a boy who is sexually harassing the girls in her class.
Yes, this book is about a hard, awful thing. And yes, I recommend it for kids to read with grown-ups because most children will need to unpack and discuss the themes and issues in this heartfelt story.
The Brave by James Bird
#OWNVOICES / OJIBWE INDIGENOUS CULTURE / NEURO DIFFERENCES / MAGICAL REALISM
Run out to get this absolutely jaw-dropping, stunningly beautiful book with a main character you’ll fall in love with (and whose character arc is HUGE.) It’s filled with metaphorical, meaningful, and symbolic writing and you will feel ALL the feelings. When Collin, a boy who counts every letter spoken to him and says the number out loud, gets kicked out of yet another school, his neglectful father sends Collin to live with his mom. Collin has never met his mother but he’s curious to meet her and live on the Ojibwe reservation. Living with her is a totally different experience than his previous home — because with his mother, he’s welcomed and not judged. He befriends the neighbor girl who teaches Collin how to be brave. Which he needs. And so does she because she’s going to be a butterfly soon… This book is one of the BEST middle-grade books, not just of 2020, but of all time.
Whale of the Wild
by Rosanne Parry, illustrated by Lindsay Moore
ENVIRONMENT / OCEAN / ANIMALS / INFERENCE / PERSPECCTIVE
I absolutely love this beautifully written story about two orca siblings separated from their families, trying to find food and their seasonal home. Alternating perspectives between the older sister Vega and little earnest, trusting brother Deneb, their voices express a uniquely imagined orca’s perspective. After her mother loses another calf, Vega leaves her pod to bury her little sister, her brother chasing after her. Then, a Tsunami hits and they both are lost from their pod. Vega, a stranger, and her little brother travel together towards recognizable landscapes and hopefully, food. As they journey, they meet other orca pods with different customs and who eat different foods, as well as other sea creatures. (This is all explained in the author’s note — which is fascinating!) When they’re with the Vanished Ones, Deneb gets hurt protecting Vega. She becomes even more determined to get Deneb to safety and food. The story, an adventure with danger and suspense, shows the importance of keeping nature in balance. I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves animals, for ocean and environmental units of study, for the reading comprehension strategy of inference and perspective, and for use as a mentor text in writing — because the writing is wonderfully evocative.
Written in verse, this is a heart-wrenching, heart-stopping, suspenseful adventure with lyrical, figurative language about an intense journey of physical hardship and emotional healing. Shifting perspectives between before and after her mom was shot, Nora and her dad climb into a Sonoran Desert canyon for the first time in the year since her mom died. Just as Nora tells her father she hates him, a flash flood careens through the canyon, carrying her father and their supplies away. Alone and terrified, Nora forces herself to find shelter and keep searching for her father, even with the venom from a scorpion bite slowing her down. As she faces her fears and continues on, she overcomes a metaphorical war with the “beast” who has been giving her nightmares for the past year.
Written in verse, this timely story of immigration and deportation follows 9-year-old Betita who lives in the United States but ends up in detention.
When her Papi gets taken by ICE, Betita, her mom, and a neighbor make the mistake of trying to meet him at the border where they also get thrown into detention. Detention is traumatic for them, with horrible conditions and racist guards. There is no sugar coating it, it’s hard to read. Betita relies on her father’s story of cranes, using this overarching metaphor to talk about her clipped wings and her song. She draws and writes poetry to send to her Papi which she gives to a lawyer to pass along and tell her story. Then, her pregnant mom’s sickness forces her into the medical ward, leaving Betita alone in detention. Betita makes the best of it by teaching others how to write poetry and imagine their crane wings flying in the wild. Ultimately, the family agrees to voluntary departure even though it’s not safe in Mexico because at least they’ll be together and not in prison. Powerful and important.
In an action-packed, exciting adventure about super-intelligent, talking animals, Nukilik, a polar bear, is tranqed and taken to a facility holding different endangered animals. When he starts to understand the humans, he’s introduced to the other animals in the facility who all are extra-intelligent like him. They recruit him into their secret group that helps other animals and endangered habitats. When their friends, the ferrets, get relocated to Colorado and put into danger, the Endangereds fly to help and the action really gets exciting. It’s a great story and I can’t wait for the next book!
If you like sweet stories of friendship, you won’t want to miss this new story.
Prickly Badger’s life and rock studies are the most (and only) important thing in his life. Unexpectedly, he’s rudely interrupted by a new roommate, the helpful, philosophical, and curious chicken-loving Skunk. Badger wants Skunk to leave but he’s surprised when he enjoys Sunk’s cooking and company. Then after a spray incident and cruel comments he regrets, Badger fixes his mistake the two friends find that they’re better off together.
Added to: Wholesome Middle Grade Books for Boys and Girls
and Illustrated Chapter Books for Kids
by Cynthia Kadohata, illustrated by Marianna Raskin
/ ANIMAL RESCUE
Looking for a sweet story of animal rescue?
Becca is a triplet who doesn’t feel special until she adopts a stray pig. Because he will grow to be 600 lbs, she can only keep him for a while before he’ll go to an animal rescue. Despite his destructive behavior, Becca falls head over heels in love with her crazy pig, Saucy. Unfortunately, he bites her mom and must leave early for his new home, a devastating event for the entire family including grandma. But, Saucy and her brothers find out about a pig factory with deplorable conditions. They rescue even more pigs which helps them with their sadness. Added to: Wholesome Middle-Grade Books for Boys and Girls
and Illustrated Chapter Books for Kids
Sometimes you just need a good escape novel — and this one hits the spot perfectly with an exciting adventure that zips along. Ada is the prodigy daughter of an incarcerated thief. She escapes her reform school with two friends to search for the ultra-secretive “Hacker’s Key”– codes that could destroy the world if in the wrong hands. Ada and her friends need to steal the Key back and return it to the United Nations but they’ll need funds to travel the world, trust in their partners, and allies along the way. Loved it!
by Leila Sales, illustrated by Kim Balacuit
Maddie learns that the only person running for mayor wants to cut funding for school art programs. She convinces her babysitter to run for mayor, too — and rallies her classmates, most who aren’t even her friends, to support her babysitter so that the arts funding won’t get cut. Through her activism, she learns about the election process but also how to deal with jealousy and unexpected friends. A fantastic read!
Added to: Books about Elections and Voting
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