Tag Archives: contemporary realistic middle-grade fiction

The Hard Stuff

Have you ever read a book that haunts you? Follows you around like an eager puppy, sticks to you like a cobweb? Do you find yourself thinking about the story while you work or drive or do laundry? Do you see the characters in the grocery store, on the street, at the gas station?

I love books like that, the ones that weave themselves into the fabric of my life and force me to turn the words over in my head until I’ve looked at them from every possible angle.

Wendelin Van Draanen’s latest book, Wild Bird, is my current sticky cobweb.

The main character, Wren, has experienced the trauma of moving to a new city and finding her life and family utterly unfamiliar. What happens next is a spiral brought on by bad decisions and desperation, right to rock bottom. Whisked away to eight weeks of desert survivalist camp, Wren must decide who she wants to be and how she wants to live. Her journey is both heart breaking and inspiring and I held my breath for her until the very last page.

Van Draanen takes the difficult topic of drug addiction and presents it without preaching or passing moral judgments. She simply and beautifully givers us a story of struggle.

Which got me thinking.

With empathy and fearlessness, middle grade authors regularly wade into the troubling issues kids face in today’s complex world. These authors reflect the challenges a child might be experiencing or offer a window into the struggles of classmates and friends, all while telling a compelling story. This is no small feat.

I can’t possibly cover them all but here are some of my current favorites:

 

The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner

While this novel has some fantastical elements (wish granting fish, for example), it deals with the heroin crisis currently all too familiar in many parts of the country

 

 

 

 

Pax, by Sara Pennypacker

This poetic story, told from the perspective of a boy and his pet fox, illustrates the ravages of war to human and animal kind with a subtle and deft hand.

 

 

 

 

OCDaniel, by Wesley King

Edgar Award winning author King offers the story of an ‘eccentric thirteen-year-old social oddity’ who desperately wants to fit in. When Daniel gets caught up in solving a mystery, he illustrates just how he might learn to survive and thrive with behavior seen as outside of ‘normal’.

 

 

 

Kat Greene Comes Clean, by Melissa Roske

Kat Greene struggles to manage her mother’s worsening OCD, a job well above the pay grade of a child. This novel deftly illustrates the importance and courage of asking for help when a situation goes too far.

 

 

 

 

George, by Alex Gino

This transgender narrative, written for and about kids, shows a child’s journey from despair to courage. It is at once funny and inspiring.

 

 

 

January New Releases!

It’s always fun to discover what books are being released next, but especially at the beginning of a brand new year. So let’s welcome 2018 in with these new middle grade releases:

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSHADOW WEAVER by MaryKate Connolly

Fans of Serafina and the Black Cloak and The Night Gardener will devour Shadow Weaver, the first in a dark middle-grade fantasy duology that’s filled with shadows, danger, magic, and has the feel of a new classic.

Emmeline’s gift of controlling shadows has isolated her from the rest of the world, but she’s grown to be content, hidden away in her mansion with Dar, her own shadow, as her only company.

Disaster strikes when a noble family visits their home and offers to take Emmeline away and cure her of magic. Desperate not to lose her shadows, she turns to Dar who proposes a deal: Dar will change the noble’s mind, if Emmeline will help her become flesh as she once was. Emmeline agrees but the next morning the man in charge is in a coma and all that the witness saw was a long shadow with no one nearby to cast it. Scared to face punishment, Emmeline and Dar run away.

With the noble’s guards on her trail, Emmeline’s only hope of clearing her name is to escape capture and perform the ritual that will set Dar free. But Emmeline’s not sure she can trust Dar anymore, and it’s hard to keep secrets from someone who can never leave your side.

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Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz, Renee Watson

In Detroit, 1945, eleven-year-old Betty’s house doesn’t quite feel like home. She believes her mother loves her, but she can’t shake the feeling that her mother doesn’t want her. Church helps those worries fade, if only for a little while. The singing, the preaching, the speeches from guest activists like Paul Robeson and Thurgood Marshall stir African Americans in her community to stand up for their rights. Betty quickly finds confidence and purpose in volunteering for the Housewives League, an organization that supports black-owned businesses. Soon, the American civil rights icon we now know as Dr. Betty Shabazz is born.

Inspired by Betty’s real life–but expanded upon and fictionalized through collaboration with novelist Renée Watson–Ilyasah Shabazz illuminates four poignant years in her mother’s childhood with this book, painting an inspiring portrait of a girl overcoming the challenges of self-acceptance and belonging that will resonate with young readers today.

Backmatter included.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSPY ON HISTORY: Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army by Enigma Alberti

Your mission: Find Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook. And discover one of the most unusual stories of World War II.

Meet the 603rd Camouflage Engineers, better known as the Ghost Army. This group of artists and sound engineers were trained to deceive the Germans in World War II with everything from fake tanks to loudspeakers broadcasting the sound of marching troops. And meet Victor Dowd, a real-life sergeant who with his fellow Ghost Army troops fought his way from Normandy, through France, and eventually across the Rhine.

Second in the Spy on History series, it’s a compelling story of a little-known chapter from the war—and a mystery to solve. Using spycraft materials included in a sealed envelope, readers will discover and unravel the clues embedded in the book’s text and illustrations, and uncover the mystery of Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgMARTIN RISING: Requiem For A King by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Brian Pinkney

In a rich embroidery of visions, musical cadence, and deep emotion, Andrea and Brian Pinkney convey the final months of Martin Luther King’s life — and of his assassination — through metaphor, spirituality, and multilayers of meaning.

Andrea’s stunning poetic requiem, illustrated with Brian’s lyrical and colorful artwork, brings a fresh perspective to Martin Luther King, the Gandhi-like, peace-loving activist whose dream of equality — and whose courage to make it happen — changed the course of American history. And even in his death, he continues to transform and inspire all of us who share his dream.

Wonderful classroom plays of Martin Rising can be performed by using the “Now Is the Time” history and the 1968 timeline at the back of the book as narration — and adding selected poems to tell the story!

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgTHE TRUTH AS TOLD by Mason Buttle
Nothing but the truth

From the critically acclaimed author of Waiting for Normal and All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, Leslie Connor, comes a deeply poignant and beautifully crafted story about self-reliance, redemption, and hope.

Mason Buttle is the biggest, sweatiest kid in his grade, and everyone knows he can barely read or write. Mason’s learning disabilities are compounded by grief. Fifteen months ago, Mason’s best friend, Benny Kilmartin, turned up dead in the Buttle family’s orchard. An investigation drags on, and Mason, honest as the day is long, can’t understand why Lieutenant Baird won’t believe the story Mason has told about that day.

Both Mason and his new friend, tiny Calvin Chumsky, are relentlessly bullied by the other boys in their neighborhood, so they create an underground club space for themselves. When Calvin goes missing, Mason finds himself in trouble again. He’s desperate to figure out what happened to Calvin, and eventually, Benny.

But will anyone believe him?

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgJUST LIKE JACKIE by Lindsey Stoddard
Family is family, no matter what it looks like. Readers will cheer for this pitch-perfect story, just right for fans of such books as The Great Gilly Hopkins and Fish in a Tree.

For as long as Robinson Hart can remember, it’s just been her and Grandpa. He taught her about cars, baseball, and everything else worth knowing. But Grandpa’s memory has been getting bad—so bad that he sometimes can’t even remember Robbie’s name.

She’s sure that she’s making things worse by getting in trouble at school, but she can’t resist using her fists when bullies like Alex Carter make fun of her for not having a mom.

Now she’s stuck in group guidance—and to make things even worse, Alex Carter is there too. There’s no way Robbie’s going to open up about her life to some therapy group, especially not with Alex in the room. Besides, if she told anyone how forgetful Grandpa’s been getting lately, they’d take her away from him. He’s the only family she has—and it’s up to her to keep them together, no matter what.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgLOVE by Matt de la Peña, Loren Long
From Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña and bestselling illustrator Loren Long comes a story about the strongest bond there is and the diverse and powerful ways it connects us all.

“In the beginning there is light and two wide-eyed figures standing near the foot of your bed and the sound of their voices is love.

A cab driver plays love softly on his radio while you bounce in back with the bumps of the city and everything smells new, and it smells like life.”

In this heartfelt celebration of love, Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña and bestselling illustrator Loren Long depict the many ways we experience this universal bond, which carries us from the day we are born throughout the years of our childhood and beyond. With a lyrical text that’s soothing and inspiring, this tender tale is a needed comfort and a new classic that will resonate with readers of every age.

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THE JOURNEY OF LITTLE CHARLIE by Christopher Paul Curtis

Twelve-year-old Charlie is down on his luck: His sharecropper father just died and Cap’n Buck — the most fearsome man in Possum Moan, South Carolina — has come to collect a debt. Fearing for his life, Charlie strikes a deal with Cap’n Buck and agrees to track down some folks accused of stealing from the cap’n and his boss. It’s not too bad of a bargain for Charlie… until he comes face-to-face with the fugitives and discovers their true identities. Torn between his guilty conscience and his survival instinct, Charlie needs to figure out his next move — and soon. It’s only a matter of time before Cap’n Buck catches on.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgA GRAPHIX BOOK: Wings of Fire Graphic Novel #1: The Dragonet Prophecy 
by Tui T. Sutherland

Not every dragonet wants a destiny …

Clay has grown up under the mountain, chosen along with four other dragonets to fulfill a mysterious prophecy and end the war between the dragon tribes of Pyrrhia. He’s not so sure about the prophecy part, but Clay can’t imagine not living with the other dragonets; they’re his best friends.

So when one of the dragonets is threatened, all five spring into action. Together, they will choose freedom over fate, leave the mountain, and fulfill their destiny — on their own terms.

The New York Times bestselling Wings of Fire series takes flight in this first graphic novel edition, adapted by the author with art by Mike Holmes.

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THE TERRIBLE TWO GO WILD by Mac Barnett ,‎ Jory John

Everyone’s favorite pranksters are at it again! School’s out, and Miles and Niles are running wild in the woods outside town: climbing trees, exploring caves, and, yes, pranking. But these leafy, lazy days of mischief darken when bully Josh Barkin and his cadets from a nearby kids’ boot camp discover the merrymakers—and vow to destroy them. Are our heroes’ sharp minds any match for these hooligans’ hard fists? The latest installment of the witty, on-target illustrated series is another “fast paced, laugh-out-loud novel” (School Library Journal) that proves once again that, in the hands of the powerless, pranks can be tools of justice—plus, they’re funny.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgTREASURE HUNTERS: Quest for the City of Gold by James Patterson

When Bick and Beck Kidd find a hidden trove of pirate treasure, it includes a map with clues to an even bigger score: the lost Incan city of Paititi. But treasure hunting is never easy–and when the map is stolen, the Kidds must rely on Storm’s picture-perfect memory to navigate the dangerous Amazon jungle. Watch out for that nest of poisonous snakes!

To save the Amazon rainforest and stop a Peruvian tribe from losing their home, the Kidds must unlock the secrets to the missing map and find the fabled city of Paititi…before the bad guys find it first. The race is on!

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgHILO Book 4: Waking the Monsters by Judd Winick

Calvin and Hobbes meets Big Nate meets Bone in HILO-the hilarious, action-packed New York Times BESTSELLING GRAPHIC NOVEL SERIES that kids, critics (and robots!) love! “A Total BLAST,” says the Miami Herald! Chock full of MORE MONSTERS! MORE ACTION! MORE LAUGHS! MORE FUN!

DJ and Gina are TOTALLY ordinary kids. But Hilo isn’t! Has Hilo finally met his match? Not if D.J. and Gina can help it! ALERT! ALERT! ALERT! Mega Robot Monsters are suddenly waking up all over and they’re TOO BIG and TOO STRONG for Hilo to fight on his own! Luckily, he doesn’t have to! He has GINA and some brand new SUPER POWERS on his side! Being heroes can be super fun-but it can also be SUPER dangerous! And the closer Hilo and Gina get to saving their world from the monsters–the closer Hilo gets to the dark secret of his past. Does he really want to know? Do WE?!

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgTHE LEGEND OF KORRA TURF WARS Part Two by Michael Dante DiMartino

Threats member Tokuga solidifies his ties with the duplicitous Wonyong. Meanwhile, when Republic City’s housing crisis reaches its peak, Zhu Li sets her sights on the biggest public figure in the city—President Raiko—in a bid for the presidency! With her friend’s success, the future of the spirit portal, and the wellbeing of Republic City’s citizens at stake, can Korra remain neutral and fulfill her duties as the Avatar?

Written by series co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino and drawn by Irene Koh (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Afrina and the Glass Coffin), with consultation by Bryan Konietzko, this is the official continuation of The Legend of Korra!

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgDRAGON OVERNIGHT (Upside-Down Magic) by Sarah Mlynowski,‎ Lauren Myracle

Nory Horace can turn herself into a kitten. But sometimes she adds in a bit of dragon and, well, accidentally turns into a dritten. Oops? Her friend Andres Padillo can fly high . . . but then he can’t fly back down again.

Nory and Andres are in an Upside-Down Magic class with other kids who have unusual magic. Now they’re off on their first-ever overnight field trip! At Dragon Haven, Nory, Andres, and their UDM classmates get to swim with dragons, fly with dragons, and feed dragons. There’s even a Hatchery, where they might get to see a newborn dragon.

There’s only one downer. The UDM kids aren’t the only ones visiting Dragon Haven. There are other students there, too. Students from another school. Students with “normal” magic. Dragon rescue, bonfires, and pajama breakfasts won’t be nearly as fun with a bunch of snooty strangers.

Unless . . . maybe everything isn’t as bad as it first seems. Thrown together with kids who are probably enemies, but might be friends, the UDM kids dive into their topsy-turviest adventure yet.

And there you have just a few of the new middle grade releases coming this month! Have a wonderful January reading all sorts of amazing middle grade books…

Adventure, Intrigue, and Korea, OH MY!

One of the perks of being a teacher is the authors who grace our school halls, no matter where in the world those halls stand. Korea is such a place, currently front and center in recent events.

First, let me say, as a teacher and author, I appreciate the process: long hours, extensive research, pondering, the wrestling and wavering of ideas, bits of your heart and soul on paper. I value how one’s experiences provide rich content for the stories we create and how those events can touch the lives of students in the classroom. I especially love when students are able to connect to the person behind those words.

Meet author, Anne Sibley O’Brien, and her middle grade novel, In the Shadow of the Sun, an adventure story set in North Korea.

When our school librarian announced an upcoming author visit, I was intrigued to learn that the author, Anne Sibley O’Brien, had grown up in South Korea as a daughter of medical missionaries. A prolific picture book author, Ms. O’Brien’s first novel for middle school kids, In the Shadow of the Sun, unfolds in North Korea, a country currently in the midst of rising tensions around the world.

When my class and I pick up an author’s work, I remind them we are looking inside the mind of another person. We are immersing ourselves into a world that has been created from nothing. If someone else was to tell the same story, it would be voiced from a totally different perspective. In Ms. Obrien’s case, we are not only privilege to her writing acumen, but also bicultural experiences that provide sustenance in the backdrop of a foreign land.

Book Synopsis: North Korea is known as one of the most oppressed countries on Earth, with a dictatorial leader, a starving population, and harsh punishment for rebellion.

Not the best place for a family vacation.

Yet, that’s exactly where Mia Andrews finds herself, on a tour with her aid-worker father and fractious (would irritable be better here?) older brother, Simon. Mia was adopted from South Korea as a baby, and the trip raises tough questions about where she feels she really belongs. Her dad is then arrested for spying, just as forbidden photographs of North Korean slave-labor camps fall into Mia’s hands. The only way to save Dad: get the pictures out of the country. Thus, Mia and Simon set off on a harrowing journey to the border, without food, money, or shelter, in a land where anyone who sees them might turn them in, and getting caught could mean prison — or worse.

 Author Interview

In the Shadow of the Sun, Anne Sibley O’Brien

Please tell us about In the Shadow of the Sun and how you came to write it.

Our family arrived in Korea in March 1960, when my parents were hired by the Presbyterian Church to do medical missionary work. I was seven. We lived in Seoul and Daegu and on the island of Geoje, and I attended Ewha Women’s University for my junior year of college. Along the way I became bilingual and bicultural, and that background has influenced the content of some of my books, including the folktale 바보 온달, published as The Princess and the Beggar (now out of print) and my graphic novel of the Korean hero tale, The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea. 

Those books were both inspired by retellings of traditional Korean stories. In the Shadow of the Sun, however, is a completely original story, and a modern one. The inspiration for the book was a radio interview in which my attention was drawn to the people of North Korea in a way I’d never thought of them before. (More about the story here.) That led to a ten-year process of research and writing, including several remarkable encounters with North Koreans who had defected.

You can find more about my childhood and background, photographs and videos, responses to the novel, and whether I’ve ever visited North Korea, on the novel’s blog, InTheShadowOfTheSunBook.com. There is also an activity guide created by Island Readers and Writers.

How do the events in your book tie into our current events with North Korea?

In the Shadow of the Sun is the first fictional portrayal of contemporary North Korea for young English-speaking readers. When I was writing it, I never anticipated just how much the DPRK would be in the spotlight!

The picture of North Korea that’s presented in the media is such a cartoonish one. I think it’s important to consider not just the government but the people, everyday citizens who have no say in what their leaders do. Of course, my plot is a completely imagined one, but I’ve tried to weave in bits of current North Korean politics and society — and most of all, people — in a way that will give readers a glimpse of what it might be like to live there today. In the Author’s Note, I also recommend other books and films which can add more context. I hope that people might come away from the novel with a sense of the humanity of North Korea’s people.