On recent New York Times Best Seller Lists, a time-travel adventure novel by celebrity talk show host and political commentator Rush Limbaugh ranks #1 in the Middle-Grade category, edging out a widely acclaimed favorite of the children’s lit world, Wonder, by R. J. Palacio. How, you wonder? Less than two months after its publication, this title, Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims, shows over 1600 reader reviews on Amazon, and over 1400 of those are five star reviews. This never happens.
How the NYT list is compiled is a fascinating and complex subject. It is not simply a list of the books that have sold the most copies in the preceding week. Suffice it to say that most books on the list are there because of genuine popular demand for them but others not so much. Children’s books are currently a hot market in publishing, and it looks as though certain marketing practices that have long compromised the adult NYT nonfiction list, especially in the business, how-t0, and political categories, may now be creeping into children’s books. These include marketing companies or organizations making large prepublication purchases that they’ve disguised to count as individual purchases, and enlisting or hiring people by the hundreds to write and post positive “reviews.” Publishing is a business, and there’s nothing wrong with being market savvy, but if this is what landed Rush Revere on the list, you wonder what other book missed being included as a result.
Of course best-sellers are not guaranteed to be the best books anyway, and there are many better ways readers can learn about quality books for middle-graders they might like to read. Annual best books lists by reliable organizations like the the American Library Association(www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/notalists/ncb) or the New York Public Library (http://labs.nypl.org/childrens-books-2013/#/_) are a good bet. Read reviews and articles in journals such as School Library Journal or Horn Book. Public and school librarians are another great resource. And don’t forget that From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors, the site you are on at this moment, regularly reviews and discusses new books and interviews authors, so follow us and check out our archives!
Among the best people to ask for recommendations of children’s books past and present are the passionate book-lovers and hand-sellers of independent bookstores. Here are some of the shops from around the country that we’ve featured on our site in 2013, and the books they’ve recommended to middle-graders:
Hicklebee’s, San Jose CA (www.hicklebees.com) Their book of the year was Black Dog by Levi Pinfold. They also recommended Counting By 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, Martin’s Mice by Dick King-Smith, Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck, and Mr. Max: The Book of Lost Things, by Cynthia Voigt
[words], Maplewood NJ (www.wordsbookstore.com) recommended the Rick Riordan, Jeff King, and Dan Gutman books, plus Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Red Balloon Bookshop, St. Paul MN (www.redballoonbookshop.com) chose Wild Boy by Mary Losure and William Alexander’s Goblin’s Secret and Ghoulish Song.
Spellbound Children’s Bookshop, Ashville NC (www.spellboundchildrensbookshop.com) chose the Ivy and Bean, 39 Clues, and Sisters Grimm series, plus There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff and Hope Larson’s graphic version of A Wrinkle in Time.
Children’s Book World, Haverford PA (www.children’sbookworld.net) recommended Palacio’s Wonder, Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck, and John Fardell’s Seven Professors of the Far North.
Mockingbird Books, Seattle WA chose Three Times Lucky by Shiela Turnage, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, and Fellowship for Alien Detection by Kevin Emerson.
Hooray for Books, Alexandria VA (www.hoorayforbooks.com) recommended The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series by Caroline Carlson
Powell’s Books, Portland OR (www.powells.com) recommended Mr. Max: The Book of Lost Things, Twistrose Key by Tone Almhjell, Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell, The Oddfellows Orphanage by Emily Winfield Martin, and for nonfiction: The Goods by McSweeneys, Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson, “anything in the Basher Science Series,” and Stout Hearted Seven Orphaned on the Oregon Trail by Neta Lohnes Frazier.
(Note: many of these shops regularly list staff choices on their web sites).
What are the outstanding books for Middle Graders, fiction and/or nonfiction, that you’ve read in 2013?
Sue Cowing is the author of the middle-grade puppet-and-boy novel You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda, 2011, Usborne UK 2012).