Seattle Area Librarians Talk About Summer Reading

It’s Memorial Day Weekend! (Well, almost…) And you know what that means. That’s right. Summer reading!

Nicole Porter, Children’s Services Librarian at Belleuve, Lake Hills and Crossroads Libraries in Bellevue, Washington says, “Summer reading is a chance to read for pleasure without other pressures or expectations playing as high of a role in book selection as it does during other times of the year. Kids will often take the opportunity to revisit favorite worlds, characters, and story lines.”

I was curious which books were likely to be popular with middle grade readers this summer, so I asked several of my local librarians. Nicole Porter said, “I expect to see a lot of familiar series and authors continue to be popular over the summer. Books by Riordan, Rowling, Telgemeier, Pierce, Kinney, and Kibiushi disappear from our shelves soon as they appear.”

Laura Simeon, Librarian and Diversity Coordinator at Open Window School in Redmond, WA says, “The Netflix series has sparked renewed interest in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, for example among kids who weren’t yet born when the final volume was published! Rick Riordan’s new entry in the Trials of Apollo series has also captured my students’ attention.”

Gretchen Oates, Library Media Specialist at Kamiakin Middle School in Kirkland, WA says, “The most popular series in our library at the moment are Amulet, followed by the Lunch Lady, although Telgemeier’s books and those that are similar are also very popular. Any novel by Rick Riordan is also popular and the Harry Potter books are getting some renewed recognition with the new illustrated editions coming out. I think all of these are great and believe that above all children should have the freedom to choose what they want to read most of the summer, even though we librarians do tend to find ways to encourage them to try new things.”


That made me wonder which middle grade novels librarians would like to see kids reading this summer.

Nicole Porter said, “I would LOVE to see everyone reading Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan this summer! It has universal themes that many middle-grade readers  encounter such as shifting friendships, balancing family expectations with personal inclinations, and grappling with self-doubt. Readers will relate to sixth grader Pakistani American Amina’s engagement in these issues as well as see a mirror into their own diverse experiences and the world around them.”


Laura Simeon would love to see her students digging into Nikki Grimes’  One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance. She said, “It’s an accessible, deeply moving, and gorgeously illustrated volume that shows off her masterful ways with poetry while also exposing middle-grade readers to the beauty and power of Harlem Renaissance writers. I also recommend Roddy Doyle’s A Greyhound of a Girl, a gentle, quiet book set in modern Dublin with a supernatural element. With humor and grace it worms its way into your heart and mind, leaving an indelible impression. Finally, I was fortunate enough to pick up an ARC of In the Shadow of the Sun by Anne Sibley O’Brien at ALA Midwinter, and couldn’t put it down! It’s a thrilling, fast-paced adventure set in contemporary North Korea, and O’Brien’s thorough research and personal knowledge of Korean culture really shine through.”

Debbie Pearson, Librarian at Seattle Country Day School, says her top choices this year have been a bit heavier and more introspective than usual. “Definitely not ‘beach reads,’” she says. “I just finished reading Ghost by Jason Reynolds about a boy who has had more than a few knocks in life and seems to find a crack in a window of opportunity through the school track team, but the problem is he can’t afford the running shoes that will take him to where he wants to go. What to do when he finds the perfect shoes in a shop one day? A great book to look at the many sides of individuals. Do we ever really know someone else? Can we risk telling the truth about ourselves? This year, I’ve also produced a mini-following for Pax by Sara Pennypacker about a boy and his pet fox in a time when the world is unsettled and war may be at his doorstep. The only one he can trust is his fox and even that gets taken from him. Allegorical, thoughtful, and tear-jerking.  Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate also tugged at my heartstrings this year. Who doesn’t remember relying on an imaginary friend for comfort and companionship? Crenshaw happens to be a gigantic cat who just may be real in so many ways and only comes when the need is the greatest. My final book is The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan, a master storyteller and weaver of words. I haven’t read anything by her in recent years, but picked this up and loved the tale of loss and newfound hope. The dog loses his beloved poet master, but finds two children in need of rescue in a snowstorm. The dog’s musings about his past life, while based on fantasy as the story of an anthropomorphized dog would be, ring so very true to the heart. We can experience loss, but find life in our beloved memories.

Nancy Palmer, a librarian at the Little School in Bellevue, WA would also like to see kids at her school reading Jason Reynolds’ Ghost because “it provides real insight into a life very unlike that of the kids at my school, in a multi-faceted portrayal that will help the kids see Ghost as a person, not a stereotype.” She’d also like to see them read Lauren Wolks’ Wolf Hollow because “anything that strengthens their bent toward kindness is a plus, and this is told in a direct, powerful way that will get to them, I think.” Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida “gives them a very personal look at the internment experience and helps them on the road to becoming world-minded.” Book 3 of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain is “such a well-written fantasy, with wondering characters, but can be too slow-starting for some kids. Here’s hoping they plow ahead to the terrific rest!” And finally, The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall is “an oldie but goodie. It’s a fantasy about the tiny Minnipin folk in the Slipper-on-the-Water, a nonconforming few of whom rise up as heroes to defend their village against an invading threat. It offers humor, wonderful characters and true courage and also celebrates independent thinking and a willingness to do the right thing in the face of authoritarian opposition.”

Stephanie Zero, Teen Services Librarian at the Redmond Library in Redmond, WA, is book-talking these books to sixth graders: Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology (especially for readers who enjoy the mythology in Rick Riordan’s books). Pamela Turner’s Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune, which “documents the true story of the legendary samurai who was raised in the household of the enemies who killed his father before being sent to live in a monastery where, against the odds, he learned and perfected his fighting skills.” Deborah Ellis’s, The Cat at the Wall, which centers on the Israeli Palestine conflict as told by a talking cat. “A cat sneaks into a small Palestinian house on the West Bank that has been commandeered by two Israeli soldiers. The house seems empty, until the cat realizes that a little boy is hiding beneath the floorboards. Should she help him? After all, she’s just a cat. Or is she? She was once a regular North American girl, but that was before she died and came back to life as a cat.”  Caitlin Alifirenka’s, I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives, which is the true story of an all-American girl and a boy from Zimbabwe and the letter that changed both of their lives forever.  Andrea Davis Pinkney’s, The Red Pencil, which is a Battle of the Books selection. “After her tribal village is attacked by militants, Amira, a young Sudanese girl, must flee to safety at a refugee camp, where she finds hope and the chance to pursue an education in the form of a single red pencil and the friendship and encouragement of a wise elder.” Andrea Gonzales’s Girl Code. “The teenage phenoms behind viral video game Tampon Run share the story of their experience at Girls Who Code and their rise to fame, plus a savvy look at starts-ups, women in tech, and the power of coding. Dustin Hansen’s Game On! Video Game History, which covers video Game History From Pong and Pac-man to Mario, Minecraft, and More. Jazz Jennings’ Being Jazz“Teen activist and trailblazer Jazz Jennings–named one of “The 25 most influential teens” of the year by Time–shares her very public transgender journey, as she inspires people to accept the differences in others while they embrace their own truths.” And finally, Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk and the Quest for A Fantastic Future, which is an authorized portrait of one of Silicon Valley’s most dynamic entrepreneurs evaluates his role in the successes of such innovations as Tesla and Space X while evaluating America’s technological competitiveness.”

Rebecca Moore, Middle School Librarian at the Overlake School in Redmond, WA, says, “This is a golden age for middle grade and YA nonfiction, narrative and informational books.” She recommends Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West by Candace Fleming, Isaac the Alchemist: secrets of Isaac Newton, reveal’d by Mary Losure, Elon musk and the quest for a fantastic future: young readers’ edition by Ashley Vance, Women in science: 50 fearless pioneers who changed the world by Rachel Ignotofsky, No better friend: young readers edition: a man, a dog, and their incredible true story of friendship and survival in World War II by Robert Weintraub and The Boy who harnessed the wind by William Kamkwamba.

Rebecca would also love for kids to read books that “present them with a greater variety of ‘windows and mirrors’ to build empathy and understanding of other cultures and ways of life, as well as to see their own experiences and situations reflected in books.” For instance: Flying lessons & other stories edited by Ellen Oh, Anything by Jason Reynolds (Ghost, As Brave as Youetc.), The War that saved my life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley), Makoons by Louise Erdrich, Lily & Dunkin by Donna Gephart, Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky and Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee.

She would also love for kids to pick up “books with unusual structures, to stretch their minds and their concepts of what constitutes a ‘story.’ Unusual structures also help the reader become more involved because they have to have a greater role in assembling and comprehending the story themselves.” She suggests, The Inquisitor’s tale, one story told in many sometimes contradictory voices by Adam Gidwitz, Booked a novel in verse by Kwame Alexander, Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer an epistolary novel by Kelly Jones and the documentary novels, Regarding the… by the Klise sisters.

Finally, Rebecca would love for kids to pick up books with “lush world-building, complex characters, thoughtful narratives, no easy answers, and glimpses into something deeper than the typical action adventure fantasy. Complexity is not limited to fantasy, of course, but these are the titles that popped into my head: The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill, The Glass Sentence and sequels by S.E. Grove, When the Sea Turned to Silver and prequels by Grace Lin, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Anything by Robin McKinley or Frances Hardinge, The Naming and sequels by Alison Croggon, Sabriel and sequels by Garth Nix.”

If you’re like me and you like your summer reading lists to coming in actual list form, here’s a list (alphabetical by author) of above mentioned titles as well as other summer reading recommendations by other Seattle area librarians:

  • I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka
  • Playbook by Kwame Alexander
  • Booked by Kwame Alexander
  • Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
  • Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
  • The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  • See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng
  • Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova
  • World’s Collide (last book in the Land of Stories series) by Chris Colfer
  • Cat at the Wall by Deborah Ellis
  • Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West by Candace Fleming
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  • Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart
  • Spy School Secret Service (book five in the Spy School series) by Stuart Gibbs
  • Panda-monium (book four in the FunJungle series) by Stuart Gibbs
  • The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz
  • Girl Code by Andrea Gonzales
  • Real Friends by Shannon Hale
  • Game On! Video Game History by Dustin Hansen
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
  • The Warriors series by Erin Hunter
  • Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky
  • Being Jazz by Jazz Jennings
  • Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones
  • The Man Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
  • The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall
  • The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi
  • Regarding the… series by the Klise sisters
  • Restart by Gordon Korman
  • The Lunch Lady series by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
  • When the Sea Turned to Silver (and prequels) by Grace Lin
  • Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, reveal’d by Mary Losure
  • Point Guard by Mike Lupica
  • The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan
  • Sabriel (and sequels) by Garth Nix
  • Timmy Failure: The Cat Stole My Pants by Stephan Pastis
  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker
  • The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
  • Ghost by Jason Reynolds
  • The Dark Prophecy (book 2 of The Trial of Apollo series) by Rick Riordan
  • Hidden Figures Young Readers Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan
  • Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz
  • Samurai Rising by Pamela Turner
  • Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida
  • Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail
  • Elon Musk and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
  • No Better Friend: Young Readers Edition: A man, A dog, and their incredible true story of friendship and survival in World War II by Robert Weintraub
  • Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

That’s what we’re reading here in the Seattle area. Which middle grade novels are popular summer reading where you live?

Dori Butler on FacebookDori Butler on Twitter
Dori Butler
Dori Hillestad Butler is an award-winning author of more than 50 books for young readers, including the Haunted Library series, the Buddy Files series, and the King & Kayla series. Her Buddy Files #1: Case of the Lost Boy won a 2011 Edgar Award and her books have appeared on numerous children’s choice and teen award lists. Dori grew up in southern Minnesota, spent 19 years in Iowa, and now lives in the Seattle area. She enjoys visiting schools and libraries all over the country and dreams of doing an author visit in all 50 states.

Interview and Giveaway with Pura Belpré Honor Author Alexandra Diaz


Alexandra Diaz is the author of The Only Road, a Pura Belpré Honor book and Américas Award winner, which she also co-translated into Spanish, El único destino. She is also the author of the YA novels, Of All the Stupid Things (re-titled When We Were) which was a ALA Rainbow List book, and Good Girls Don’t Lie. For her day-job, she teaches circus arts to children and adults. She can be found at,, or on Twitter @alexandratdiaz.

(Photo credit: Owen Benson)

From Indiebound:

Twelve-year-old Jaime makes the treacherous and life-changing journey from his home in Guatemala to live with his older brother in the United States in this gripping and realistic middle grade novel.

Jaime is sitting on his bed drawing when he hears a scream. Instantly, he knows: Miguel, his cousin and best friend, is dead.

Everyone in Jaime’s small town in Guatemala knows someone who has been killed by the Alphas, a powerful gang that’s known for violence and drug trafficking. Anyone who refuses to work for them is hurt or killed–like Miguel. With Miguel gone, Jaime fears that he is next. There’s only one choice: accompanied by his cousin Angela, Jaime must flee his home to live with his older brother in New Mexico.

Inspired by true events, The Only Road is an individual story of a boy who feels that leaving his home and risking everything is his only chance for a better life. It is a story of fear and bravery, love and loss, strangers becoming family, and one boy’s treacherous and life-changing journey.

“Powerful and timely.” —Booklist (starred review)
“An important, must-have addition to the growing body of literature with immigrant themes.” —School Library Journal (starred review)

Congratulations on the Pura Belpré Honor! Tell us what it was like to find out about it. How did you celebrate?

I was driving a friend to Tuscan and didn’t hear the phone ring. It wasn’t until 11 o’clock that night that I checked my messages. I was very excited and thrilled and couldn’t really believe it. In the morning I double-checked the messages and sure enough it was still there! Once back in Santa Fe, my mom and sister took me out for lunch, and the ladies in my writing group brought cake and ice cream to our following meeting. It was awesome and such an honor!

In your Author’s Note, you tell us that you are the child of Cuban refugees. How does that inform your writing in The Only Road?

I grew up hearing stories of what it was like to leave family and home behind. Though my parents’ experience was different than what my characters went through, the thoughts and feelings remained the same: what was going to happen, would they make it, would they ever come back, and so forth. But mostly it was the sense of not having any other choice.

How did you decide to depict the uglier, more violent aspects of the journey and still make the book appropriate for middle-grade readers?

I wanted a book true to the current immigration status and the experiences of real people. But yes, I also didn’t want to introduce situations that readers weren’t prepared to understand. For example, I mentioned that if the gangs thought Ángela was pretty enough, she would become one of the gang members’ girlfriends and left it at that. The reader could then interpret that to whatever level they felt comfortable.

Why did you choose to have Ángela and Jaime travel together, rather than Jaime going it alone?

By traveling together, they could help each other out, it adds compassion, and it also ups the tension. I love characters and characters’ relationships with each other. As a writer, I think I would have been a bit bored if Jaime were on his own, especially as other characters come and go.

A Spanish version of The Only Road was also published. Can you tell us about the process?

I think I had just finished writing the English version when I was asked if I wanted to translate it. The prospect excited and scared me as my brain shifted continuously from “I’d love to!” and “I can’t do it!” I never learned Spanish in school so my writing abilities are not very strong. But my mom said we had to do it and I’m so glad we did. We worked on the translation together—her focusing more on the grammar and vocabulary and me on the narrative/character voice and structure. I chose the title El único destino because “destino” has a double meaning of “destination” and “destiny”. Hopefully the overall effect worked well!

What kind of research did you do to get the details right?

I read a lot of biographies, autobiographies, and other nonfiction material that discussed the immigrants’ journey. I also interviewed a few people who had either immigrated themselves or worked with immigrants or along the migration trail. I knew I wouldn’t want to experience it for myself, but I did want to remain true to what happens and several resources expressed similar events. Thank goodness for the internet, which allowed me have access to much more than I would have found otherwise, including a map of the cargo train routes through Mexico. I did visit Mexico a couple of times to get a feel for the country and what it looks like and translate that sense into the book.

If there was one single thing that you wanted readers to get from The Only Road, what would it be?

Young people read about slavery and the Holocaust but not so often about what is happening with immigration today. I would like readers to know this is something that is going on in the world today, possibly even happened to classmates or neighbors. And for those readers who have experienced something similar, I wanted to remind them that they are not alone and there’s always hope.

How is writing middle-grade fiction different from writing for young adults?

When I write YA, I tend to write in first person, while middle grade comes out in third. Most of the differences I noticed were around that: first person is more internal and limited to what that one character is experiencing while third person allowed me to move into an occasional omniscient or different characters’ point of view. Also, when writing for young adults, anything goes in terms of language, sex, violence, etc. but middle grade fiction requires a few more filters. That said, I never felt restricted or frustrated in terms of what content to include. If anything, I feel I’m a better and more diverse writer as a result.

What other books do you recommend to readers who enjoyed The Only Road?

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez is a great historical novel about Cuban immigration in the 1960s that is truthful and compassionate.


I also enjoyed The Arrival by Shaun Tan, which is a wordless graphic novel that truly captures the feel and emotions of an immigrant or refugee.

What’s your favorite thing about middle-grade fiction (as a reader or a writer)?

I love getting involved in the story and situations of youth. I feel I can connect better with them than I do adults or fiction for adults. I also enjoy that for the most part middle-grade fiction is fast-paced with good action and generally has some funny lines.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to write middle-grade fiction?

It’s important to know your audience, how they behave and interact together. Some of the biggest mistakes I’ve noticed is talking down to your reader, or having the protagonist seem too young or too good. Read a lot of middle grade and write even more. If there are people you trust who can give you constructive criticism, that’s great, keeping in mind that your work can always be better, but not every bit of feedback has to be applied. Remain true to yourself while striving to make your writing better. Above all, keep writing and keep going no matter what setbacks you might find.


Alexandra has kindly offered a copy of The Only Road as a giveaway. Enter below (USA/Canada only, please).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Jacqueline Houtman on FacebookJacqueline Houtman on Twitter
Jacqueline Houtman
Jacqueline Houtman is the author of the middle-grade novel THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS (Front Street/Boyds Mills Press 2010) and coauthor, with Walter Naegle and Michael G. Long, of the biography for young (and not-so-young) readers, BAYARD RUSTIN: THE INVISIBLE ACTIVIST (Quaker Press 2014). Find her at

Words and Music

Since today is National Buy an Instrument Day, we’re tooting the horns of middle-grade books featuring musical kids, as well as some great biographies.

There is so much comedy and drama built into a band or orchestra story. I well remember the gut-twisting terror of pop band tests and the frustration of never being able to attain first-chair trumpet. But for all of the trials, come contest or concert time, pep band or parade, nothing was quite as thrilling as playing my part in creating a spectrum of sound.

Front and center is Second Fiddleby our own award-winning Roseanne Parry! 

The author of Heart of a Shepherd offers another sensitive portrayal of military families, this time stationed abroad, in the city of Berlin at that historic time just after the Wall came down.

When 13-year-old Jody and her friends save a badly beaten Russian soldier from drowning, they put into motion a chain of events that will take them from Berlin to Paris and straight into danger. Jody must quickly learn to trust herself, because in the time directly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the border between friend and enemy is not as clear as it once was.

A fast-paced, coming-of-age story filled with adventure, music, friendship, and intrigue.

Band Geeks Seriesby Amy Cobb The band room. For band geeks at Benton Bluff Junior High, it’s the place to be. Their director, Mr. Byrd, may dress like he’s in the tropics, but he’s strict on the podium, getting his students to play like the musicians they are. These band geeks handle friendships, crushes, dances, fund-raisers, jealousy, divided loyalties, missing instruments, parents, grandparents, school dances, solo competitions, chair placement auditions, band camp, and more throughout the school year. Music is just the beginning!

The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori & the Invention of the Piano, by Elizabeth Rusch and Majorie Priceman Award-winning biographer Elizabeth Rusch and two-time Caldecott Honor-recipient Marjorie Priceman team up to tell the inspiring story of the invention of the world’s most popular instrument: the piano.

Bartolomeo Cristofori coaxes just the right sounds from the musical instruments he makes. Some of his keyboards can play piano, light and soft; others make forte notes ring out, strong and loud, but Cristofori longs to create an instrument that can be played both soft and loud.
His talent has caught the attention of Prince Ferdinando de Medici, who wants his court to become the musical center of Italy. The prince brings Cristofori to the noisy city of Florence, where the goldsmiths’ tiny hammers whisper tink, tink and the blacksmiths’ big sledgehammers shout BANG, BANG Could hammers be the key to the new instrument?

At last Cristofori gets his creation just right. It is called the pianoforte, for what it can do. All around the world, people young and old can play the most intricate music of their lives, thanks to Bartolomeo Cristofori’s marvelous creation: the piano.

Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis Bud Caldwell has been an orphan since he was six. After 4 years of foster homes and orphanages, Bud has had enough. He hops a train from Flint, Michigan to Grand Rapids. Armed with just an old flyer, his suitcase, and Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself,  he plans to find his father, the great jazz musician Herman Calloway and his band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression. But once in Grand Rapids,  Bud begins to untangle the lies and secrets of his family history, all while falling headlong into the magical world of jazz. Like the music itself, Bud learns the truth is often complicated, both painful and joyful.

I am Drums, by Mike Grosso  Sam knows she wants to be a drummer. But she doesn’t know how to afford a drum kit, or why budget cuts end her school’s music program, or why her parents argue so much, or even how to explain her dream to other people. But drums sound all the time in Sam’s head, and she’d do just about anything to play them out loud–even lie to her family if she has to. Will the cost of chasing her dream be too high? An exciting new voice in contemporary middle grade, Mike Grosso creates a determined heroine readers will identify with and cheer for.

The Mysteries of Beethoven’s Hair, Russell Martin and Lydia Nibley At the time of Ludwig van Beethoven’s death, it was a common practice to take a lock of hair from the deceased as a remembrance, a sacred remnant of the person who meant so much when alive. One such lock of Beethoven’s hair survived through the years and eventually became the joint property of two men who, in 1995, opened the sealed frame that encased the hair and began the process of unlocking the mysteries of Beethoven’s life, death, and possibly his genius.

Follow the trail of Beethoven’s hair as it was passed on from the boy who cut it to his son and down through the years, as it was safeguarded from Nazi Germany and eventually sold at auction in 1994. Through careful forensic testing, the hairs in the lock revealed the causes of Beethoven’s deafness and his many illnesses. This fascinating story is not only a study of the secrets that forensics can reveal, but a moving history of many people’s devotion to Beethoven’s music. Husband and wife team Russell Martin and Lydia Nibley follow the success of Martin’s adult book, BEETHOVEN’S HAIR, with this retelling for younger readers.

The Reinvention of Moxie Roosevelt, by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel Moxie Roosevelt Kipper has endured thirteen years of being an ordinary girl with an unordinary name. Now that she’s entered boarding school, the time is ripe to reinvent herself. She’ll become unusual, outlandish, unexpected, sassy? someone worthy of a name like Moxie. But who exactly? From Mysterious Earth Goddess to Hale and Hearty Sports Enthusiast; from Detached, Unique, Coolly Knowing Individual to Assertive Revolutionary Activist, Moxie tries them all, while keeping her true talent for piano-playing a secret. But at boarding school, Moxie isn’t the only one who isn’t what she claims to be.

The Way to Stay in Destinyby Augusta Scattergood Theo Thomas has two passions: baseball and piano. Ripped from his life on his grandparents’ farm, and plunked down in Destiny, Florida with his cantankerous Vietnam vet uncle, Theo’s not sure how he’s going to survive past the sixth grade. But then there’s Miss Sister and her piano, and Anabel and her Hank Aaron project, and suddenly Destiny might not be so bad after all. As long as his uncle doesn’t find out what he’s up to.


A Crooked Kind of Perfectby Linda Urban Zoe Elias has a mother who is never home and a father who refuses to leave home. Ever. The odds are stacked against her. But that doesn’t stop her from dreaming of playing the piano at Carnegie Hall. Fortunately for Zoe, her father is listening. Unfortunately, he’s easily distracted and that’s how Zoe ends up the proud new owner of the Perfectone D-60 organ. Now not only is she stuck playing the organ, but suddenly there’s the Perfect-O-Rama Annual Organ Competition. And the strange boy Wheeler Diggs following her home from school everyday. Life for Zoe Elias is about as far from perfect as it can gets. She thinks.

Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie, by Jordan Sonnenblick Steven has a totally normal life (well, almost). He plays drums in the All-City Jazz Band (whose members call him the Peasant), has a crush on the hottest girl in school (who doesn’t even know he’s alive), and is constantly annoyed by his younger brother, Jeffrey (who is cuter than cute – which is also pretty annoying). But when Jeffrey gets sick, Steven’s world is turned upside down, and he is forced to deal with his brother’s illness, his parents’ attempts to keep the family in one piece, his homework, the band, girls, and Dangerous Pie (yes, you’ll have to read the book to find out what that is).

The Mozart Season, by Virginia Euwer Wolff When Allegra was a little girl, she thought she would pick up her violin and it would sing for her―that the music was hidden inside her instrument. Now that Allegra is twelve, she believes the music is in her fingers, and the summer after seventh grade she has to teach them well. She’s the youngest contestant in the Ernest Bloch Young Musicians’ Competition. She knows she will learn the notes to the concerto, but what she doesn’t realize is she’ll also learn―how to close the gap between herself and Mozart to find the real music inside her heart.

Vanished, by Sheela Chari  Eleven-year-old Neela dreams of being a famous musician, performing for admiring crowds on her traditional Indian stringed instrument. Her particular instrument was a gift from her grandmother-intricately carved with a mysterious-looking dragon.

When this special family heirloom vanishes from a local church, strange clues surface: a tea kettle ornamented with a familiar pointy-faced dragon, a threatening note, a connection to a famous dead musician, and even a legendary curse. The clues point all the way to India, where it seems that Neela’s instrument has a long history of vanishing and reappearing. Even if Neela does track it down, will she be able to stop it from disappearing again?

The Drum of Destiny, by Chris Stevenson The year is 1775 and twelve-year-old Gabriel Cooper is an orphaned patriot stuck living in a house of loyalists. But when the boy discovers a discarded drum in the East River, he sees it as a call to leave his home in New York and join in the fight for freedom in Boston. With rich, historic details, Gabriel’s adventure will captivate readers as they join the boy on the difficult journey to his destiny


I Heart Band Series, by Michelle Schusterman and Genevieve Kote Holly Mead’s first day of seventh grade isn’t going as planned. Her brother ruins her carefully chosen outfit, she’s almost late, and her new band director has some surprisingly strict rules. Worst of all, it seems like her best friend, Julia, has replaced her with Natasha, the pretty, smart, new French horn player! Holly is determined to get first chair, but Natasha is turning out to be some pretty stiff competition—and not just in band. Band might be a competition, but friendship isn’t—and Holly needs to figure it out before she loses Julia for good.

Looking for more composer biographies? Check out this list by the American Musicological Society. What books can you recommend for middle-grade music lovers?