Author Archives: Julie K. Rubini

Kirkus book picks for Middle School readers

Have you ever Googled yourself? Be honest.

I never have, and during a spell of boredom while watching Big Ten football last weekend, I did.

I’ve been blessed to wear many hats throughout my life, including children’s book festival founder, former city councilwoman and now, children’s book author. As I scrolled through various articles from over the years, a wonderful surprise popped up on my cell phone screen.

An article from Sacramento Parent shared a list of the Top 19 book picks for Middle School readers from Kirkus. It begged me to question why not the top 20 book picks, but I’m rolling with it.

What is most amazing is that my biography, Virginia Hamilton: America’s Storyteller is included in the list. Pinch me.

Since this list was buried in my search, I thought it might be news to you as well. As opposed to listing all of the books, I’ve opted to highlight those that received a Starred review from Kirkus.

Some are older releases, some newer. If you have not read them, make sure to add these to your must-read list!

Wonder

R.J. Palacio, Knopf Books for Young Readers

The movie comes out in November, and if have yet to read this modern classic, make sure to pick up a copy before then!

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The book that inspired the Choose Kind movement.

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

Ghost

Jason Reynolds, Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum
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A National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature.

Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel in a new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Jason Reynolds.

Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.

Running. That’s all Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all started with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who sees something in Ghost: crazy natural talent. If Ghost can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed, or will his past finally catch up to him?

Quicksand Pond

Janet Taylor Lisle, Atheneum

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Newbery Honor winner Janet Taylor Lisle’s gorgeous and profound new novel about a pivotal summer in two girls’ lives explores the convictions we form, the judgments we make, and the values we hold.

The pond is called Quicksand Pond.

It’s a shadowy, hidden place, full of chirping, shrieking, croaking life. It’s where, legend has it, people disappear. It’s where scrappy Terri Carr lives with her no-good family. And it’s where twelve-year-old Jessie Kettel is reluctantly spending her summer vacation.

Jessie meets Terri right away, on a raft out in the water, and the two become fast friends. On Quicksand Pond, Jessie and Terri can be lost to the outside world—lost until they want to be found. But a tragedy that occurred many decades ago has had lingering effects on this sleepy town, and especially on Terri Carr. And the more Jessie learns, the more she begins to question her new friendship—and herself.

The Unexpected Life of Cromwell Pitts

Avi, Algonquin

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High adventure from a master storyteller about one boy’s attempt to fend for himself among cruel orphan masters, corrupt magistrates, and conniving thieves.

In the seaside town of Melcombe Regis, England, 1724, Oliver Cromwell Pitts wakes to find his father missing and his house flooded by a recent storm. He’s alone in his ruined home with no money and no food. Oliver’s father has left behind a barely legible waterlogged note: he’s gone to London, where Oliver’s sister, Charity, is in trouble. Exploring damage to the town in the storm’s aftermath, Oliver discovers a shipwreck on the beach. Removing anything from a wrecked ship is a hanging offense, but Oliver finds money that could save him, and he can’t resist the temptation to take it. When his crime is discovered, Oliver flees, following the trail of his father and sister. The journey is full of thieves, adventurers, and treachery–and London might be the most dangerous place of all.

York: The Shadow Cipher

Laura Ruby, Walden Pond 

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From National Book Award finalist and Printz Award winner Laura Ruby comes an epic alternate history series about three kids who try to solve the greatest mystery of the modern world: a puzzle and treasure hunt laid into the very streets and buildings of New York City.

It was 1798 when the Morningstarr twins arrived in New York with a vision for a magnificent city: towering skyscrapers, dazzling machines, and winding train lines, all running on technology no one had ever seen before. Fifty-seven years later, the enigmatic architects disappeared, leaving behind for the people of New York the Old York Cipher—a puzzle laid into the shining city they constructed, at the end of which was promised a treasure beyond all imagining. By the present day, however, the puzzle has never been solved, and the greatest mystery of the modern world is little more than a tourist attraction.

Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz live in a Morningstarr apartment—until a real estate developer announces that the city has agreed to sell him the five remaining Morningstarr buildings. Their likely destruction means the end of a dream long held by the people of New York. And if Tess, Theo, and Jaime want to save their home, they have to prove that the Old York Cipher is real. Which means they have to solve it.

Joplin, Wishing

Diane Stanley, HarperCollins
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A heartfelt and magical middle grade novel in the tradition of Tuck Everlasting and Bridge to Terabithia,about family, wishes, and the power of true friends to work magic.

While cleaning out her reclusive grandfather’s house, Joplin discovers pieces of a broken platter in a cookie tin. After having the platter repaired, Joplin wishes that she could both find a friend at school, and befriend the girl pictured in the platter. The next day, Joplin befriends a boy named Barrett, and also notices a girl outside her apartment. A girl who looks remarkably like the girl in the platter…

The girl introduces herself as Sofie, and she has a terrible secret. Cursed to grant wishes for the owner of the platter for all of time, she has been trapped for centuries. Joplin and Barrett vow to help her, but freeing Sofie is more complicated than they could have imagined, and the three friends end up against a sinister foe who could put them all in terrible danger.

The Quest for Z

Greg Pizzoli, Viking Books for Young Readers

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From an award-winning author comes a picture book biography that feels like Indiana Jones for kids!

British explorer Percy Fawcett believed that hidden deep within the Amazon rainforest was an ancient city, lost for the ages. Most people didn’t even believe this city existed. But if Fawcett could find it, he would be rich and famous forever. This is the true story of one man’s thrilling, dangerous journey into the jungle, and what he found on his quest for the lost city of Z.

Virginia Hamilton: America’s Storyteller

Julie K. Rubini, Ohio University Press
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Long before she wrote The House of Dies Drear, M. C. Higgins, the Great, and many other children’s classics, Virginia Hamilton grew up among her extended family near Yellow Springs, Ohio, where her grandfather had been brought as a baby through the Underground Railroad. The family stories she heard as a child fueled her imagination, and the freedom to roam the farms and woods nearby trained her to be a great observer. In all, Hamilton wrote forty-one books, each driven by a focus on “the known, the remembered, and the imagined”—particularly within the lives of African Americans.

Over her thirty-five-year career, Hamilton received every major award for children’s literature. This new biography gives us the whole story of Virginia’s creative genius, her passion for nurturing young readers, and her clever way of crafting stories they’d love.

Hot off the press! Fun and exciting October releases

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The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City

Jodi Kendall, author, Pascal Campion, illustrator, Harper Collins

This delightful middle grade novel is a modern-day homage to Charlotte’s Web, perfect for fans of Katherine Applegate and Cammie McGovern.

“We fell in love with The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City! No matter how big she gets, there’s always room for Hamlet in our hearts.” —Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter, New York Times bestselling co-authors of Esther the Wonder Pig

A little pig in a big city leads to lots of trouble!

Josie Shilling’s family is too big, their cramped city house is too small, and she feels like no one’s ever on her side. Then, on Thanksgiving Day, her older brother, Tom, brings home a pink, squirmy bundle wrapped in an old football jersey—a piglet he rescued from a nearby farm. Her name is Hamlet.

The minute Josie holds Hamlet, she feels an instant connection. But there’s no room for Hamlet in the crowded Shilling household. And whoever heard of keeping a pig in the city? So it’s up to Josie to find her a forever home.

The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City is a heartwarming tale of family, belonging, and growing bigger when you’ve always felt small.

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Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, The Ship of the Dead

Rick Riordan, Disney-Hyperion

Rick Riordan, the “storyteller of the gods” is back with book three in this series.

Magnus Chase, a once-homeless teen, is a resident of the Hotel Valhalla and one of Odin’s chosen warriors. As the son of Frey, the god of summer, fertility, and health, Magnus isn’t naturally inclined to fighting. But he has strong and steadfast friends, including Hearthstone the elf, Blitzen the dwarf, and Samirah the Valkyrie, and together they have achieved brave deeds, such as defeating Fenris Wolf and battling giants for Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. Now Magnus faces his most dangerous trial yet. His cousin, Annabeth, recruits her boyfriend, Percy Jackson, to give Magnus some pointers, but will his training be enough?

Loki is free from his chains. He’s readying Naglfar, the Ship of the Dead, complete with a host of giants and zombies, to sail against the Asgardian gods and begin the final battle of Ragnarok. It’s up to Magnus and his friends to stop him, but to do so they will have to sail across the oceans of Midgard, Jotunheim, and Niflheim in a desperate race to reach Naglfar before it’s ready to sail. Along the way, they will face angry sea gods, hostile giants, and an evil fire-breathing dragon. Magnus’s biggest challenge will be facing his own inner demons. Does he have what it takes to outwit the wily trickster god?

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The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

Karina Yan Glaser, HMH Books for Young Readers

The Vanderbeekers have always lived in the brownstone on 141st Street. It’s practically another member of the family. So when their reclusive, curmudgeonly landlord decides not to renew their lease, the five siblings have eleven days to do whatever it takes to stay in their beloved home and convince the dreaded Beiderman just how wonderful they are. And all is fair in love and war when it comes to keeping their home.

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Spy School Secret Service

Stuart Gibbs, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Ben goes undercover in the White House to take on a SPYDER operative determined to assassinate the president in this latest addition to the New York Times bestselling Spy School series.

Thirteen-year-old Ben Ripley has had a lot of field success despite only just beginning his second year at Spy School, something graduates rarely experience. But he’d never have survived without the help from experienced agents and his friends.

Now he’s been called in on a solo mission—and the fate of the United States of America is on his shoulders alone.

The Mission: Prevent a presidential assassination by infiltrating the White House, and locating the enemy operative. But when the president’s son is as helpful as a hamster, and a trained SPYDER agent would never appear to be up to something (they’re far too clever for that), Ben may be in over his head this time.

And when everything goes wrong, Ben must rely on his Spy School friends to save his reputation…but even friends can double-cross or be swayed to the enemy’s side.

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The Silver Mask Magisterium, Book Four

Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, Scholastic

In this spellbinding fourth book of Magisterium, bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare take us beyond the realm of the living and into the dangers of the dead.

A generation ago, Constantine Madden came close to achieving what no magician had ever achieved: the ability to bring back the dead. He didn’t succeed . . . but he did find a way to keep himself alive, inside a young child named Callum Hunt.

Now Call is one of the most feared and reviled students in the history of the Magisterium, thought to be responsible for a devastating death and an ever-present threat of war. As a result, Call has been imprisoned and interrogated. Everyone wants to know what Constantine was up to-and how he lives on.

But Call has no idea.

It is only when he’s broken out of prison that the full potential of Constantine’s plan is suddenly in his hands . . . and he must decide what to do with his power.

 

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My Brigadista Year

Katherine Paterson, Candlewick

In an engrossing historical novel, the Newbery Medal-winning author of Bridge to Terabithia follows a young Cuban teenager as she volunteers for Fidel Castro’s national literacy campaign and travels into the impoverished countryside to teach others how to read.

When thirteen-year-old Lora tells her parents that she wants to join Premier Castro’s army of young literacy teachers, her mother screeches to high heaven, and her father roars like a lion. Nora has barely been outside of Havana — why would she throw away her life in a remote shack with no electricity, sleeping on a hammock in somebody’s kitchen? But Nora is stubborn: didn’t her parents teach her to share what she has with someone in need?

Surprisingly, Nora’s abuela takes her side, even as she makes Nora promise to come home if things get too hard. But how will Nora know for sure when that time has come? Shining light on a little-known moment in history, Katherine Paterson traces a young teen’s coming-of-age journey from a sheltered life to a singular mission: teaching fellow Cubans of all ages to read and write, while helping with the work of their daily lives and sharing the dangers posed by counterrevolutionaries hiding in the hills nearby. Inspired by true accounts, the novel includes an author’s note and a timeline of Cuban history.

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The Tea Dragon Society

Katie O’Neill, author/illustrator, Oni Press

From the award-winning author of Princess Princess Ever After comes The Tea Dragon Society, a charming all-ages book that follows the story of Greta, a blacksmith apprentice, and the people she meets as she becomes entwined in the enchanting world of tea dragons.

After discovering a lost tea dragon in the marketplace, Greta learns about the dying art form of tea dragon care-taking from the kind tea shop owners, Hesekiel and Erik. As she befriends them and their shy ward, Minette, Greta sees how the craft enriches their lives–and eventually her own.

And here is the latest from our From the Mixed Up Files contributor, Jennifer Swanson.
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Geoengineering Earth’s Climate: Resetting the Earth’s Thermostat

Jennifer Swanson, Twenty-First Century Books

Most scientists agree that Earth is warming rapidly. Glaciers are melting and rising seawaters are submerging islands and coastal cities. In the coming decades, millions will likely have to escape extreme weather caused by climate change.

Some scientists say we need to act faster and with radical new technologies—now—to save our planet. They propose geoengineering, or “”engineering Earth,”” to reset our global thermostat. Ideas include thickening clouds with chemicals to reduce the amount of sunlight and pulling carbon dioxide from the air with machines. However, critics say that geoengineering could backfire and create even worse weather. Is geoengineering too risky? Or is it our best hope of survival?

What does getting a Starred review from Kirkus mean?

I was enjoying an evening of golf and dinner with my husband and friends. I left my phone at home. When we got home to walk our lovable two-year-old Labrador (who has the incredible literary name of Luna), I grabbed my phone. As I fired it up, I had several texts from my editor, Michelle Houts.

“Hey! I’m so very excited and happy for you, the shining star (think emoji) of our series!! Congratulations! (Another emoji.)

I sent a text back. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“Julie…you got a Kirkus STARRED REVIEW for Virginia Hamilton.”

At which point I called Michelle and had a memorable, fun conversation about this good fortune that has been bestowed on my recently released middle-grade biography of the most honored author of children’s literature.

Wow.

Even though this all occurred about a month ago, I’m still pinching myself. My third book published, just my second biography, and I’ve received this incredible validation of my writing abilities. And to be honest, from the outset, I didn’t really know the significance or the impact the glorious review meant. So, being the true-blue, nonfiction writer I am, I did my research.

Kirkus is one of four magazines that review books for publishers, for a fee.

Publishers Weekly is considered the leading magazine covering every aspect of “creating and selling the written word…” Over 7,000 book and media reviews are conducted each year. Subscribers shell out $250 annually for the benefit of reading the magazine. Kirkus gives individuals in the industry a preview of the most notable books being published, weeks before they are released. Kirkus sends out weekly emails to subscribers, doling out their reviews. Digital and print subscriptions cost $200 a year.

Library Journal and Booklist are the other two, and geared mainly toward librarians.  Booklist reviewers are affiliated with the American Library Association and reviews over 8,000 books annually. Library Journal reviewers are librarians and library experts who review a similar number of books as Booklist.

All four offer Starred Reviews.

But getting one from Kirkus is a whole different level, so I’m told. Kirkus has a reputation in author’s circles as being, well, let’s say persnickety. Harsh was another adjective used.

So, getting a Starred review is even more significant. It symbolizes excellence in writing. As the Kirkus website offers, “The Kirkus Star is one of the most prestigious designations in the book industry.”

When I shared the news with Arnold Adoff, the late Ms. Hamilton’s husband, he shared that in all the many years he and Virginia wrote, “getting a star from Kirkus was the hardest.”

So, what does that review mean? For me, that little star hopefully shines a big light on Virginia’s life journey, and ultimately creates new readers and fans of her work.

Virginia Hamilton Cover

She’s the real star.