Tag Archives: middle-grade fiction

Hook your Reader with a TERRIFIC First Line

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

(A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle)

 

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?”

(Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White)

Some people call them “hooks”—that all important first line of a book. Imagine a fishing hook with a fat juicy wriggling worm on the end. That worm is much more appetizing to a fish swimming by than the metal hook will ever be dangling all by itself–and so will a juicy first line of a book to potential readers cruising the shelves in a bookstore or library.

A fishing rod and worms is how I describe the creation of story hooks when I do my Creative Diary writing workshop with kids. You want to throw that great, delicious hook out there, capture your reader, and then reel them in and not let them go until they reach THE END. As a writer or a librarian or a teacher trying to grab a child with a book, we want our potential reader to get intrigued, to *Get Hooked* and KEEP READING.

So just how important IS that opening first line or first page for Readers and how important are first lines for Writers?

Let’s go to our panel of experts:

Readers First!

Aubri, 15-years-old: “The cover of a book definitely draws me in first, but the first line makes or breaks it. I have to be intrigued, but I also like funny stories like the Junie B. Jones books that start out really funny and scary books where a character might be in prison and something is going to happen to them.”

Shelby, 12-years-old: “A first line makes me want to keep reading. If it’s boring, I’ll stop. I will probably read the whole first page, but unless I like it, I’ll stop reading the book. When I’m browsing the bookshelves, I read the synopsis on the jacket, too. And the Author stuff on the back.”

Milyssa, 16-years-old: “I like good first lines, but it’s more than that. The whole first paragraph has to be great.”

Writers Next! (Clicking on the author’s name will direct you to their website)

KIMBERLEY GRIFFITHS LITTLE (moi):

“I’m a sucker for great first lines. I also spend a lot of time thinking about my own first lines when I begin a book. Sometimes it takes until the end of drafting before I know what works best. Here’s the first line from my novel, When the Butterflies Came: ‘The first butterfly comes the day after the funeral.’ I hope it raises questions like “the first butterfly?” or “who just died and why are butterflies showing up?

Keep reading for more thoughts about First Lines and great books from some wonderful MG authors!

VIVIAN VANDE VELDE

“The first line needs to set the stage, giving us a glimpse into when and where the story takes place so we can immediately begin to picture things. Optimally, it should give us a meaningful glimpse at the main character–saying, thinking, doing something relevant to the story. (That is, I don’t think highly of stories that try to grab you with a cheap falsehood, as in: Terrified, Melanie screamed, convinced she was going to die. Of course, no one had ever died from seeing a mouse, but it COULD happen…) It should set the tone, giving us the voice of the character if it’s in 1st person.

And, if possible, hint at the conflict which will be at the heart of the story.

The story where I think I accomplished this most successfully is GHOST OF A HANGED MAN, which starts: “Pa said we were too young to go to the hanging.”

 

 

GREG LEITICH SMITH

“The voice has to grab you and make you want to continue and there should be some follow-through in the rest of the novel about the thing(s) that arose in the first line.

In NINJAS, I used, “I knew I was in trouble when I heard the cello,” which lets us know the protag is (a) in trouble and (b) is in some strange situation wherein that trouble is announced via a cello. And the “trouble” itself forms the basis for the main conflict.”

 

BARBARA O’CONNOR

“First lines set the tone for the story (funny, dramatic, etc). First lines are the front door of the story and should say “come on in”.

My new favorite first line is from The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester coming out the end of August: “Owen Jester tiptoed across the gleaming linoleum floor and slipped the frog into the soup.”

 

HEATHER VOGEL FREDERICK

“The former journalist in me always thinks of first lines as the “lead” to a story. When I was writing for newspapers and magazines, I always found that once I got the lead right, the rest of the article flowed from there. It’s like building a house on a solid foundation.

My goal for the first line is to reach out and grab the reader by the lapels and pull them into the story.”

Favorite first line? Still my first-born, from The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed:

“‘Absolutely, positively not!’ roared my father in a voice meant to be heard through the teeth of a Cape Horn gale.”

 

 

BARBARA BROOKS WALLACE

“Tell him, Muddle! Tell him we’re not mice!”

The first sentence of The Barrel in the Basement is a first sentence that HAS to be followed by the second – which is even better!

“Pudding gazed with horror at the huge yellow cat who lay on his side daintily probing the mouth of the jar with his paw.”

LAURIE CALKHOVEN

“I often go back and change my opening after I’ve written the end. In Daniel at the Siege of Boston, 1776, my main character thinks in the end that the siege was like one long staring match between the British and the Patriots. I wasn’t happy with my opening, so I went back and decided to open with a staring match:

“I stared into Josiah Henshaw’s red brown eyes and vowed not to blink.”

“I wanted to open with action, and this sets the tone for the rest of the book.”

M. J. AUCH

“Here’s my favorite from a short story called “Witch’s Son”.”

“When Abigail Brewster brought her son, Hugh, back from the dead the first time, he looked all fragile and wispy, like morning mist on the village commons.”

SUE COWING:

“When the flying boat/returns to earth at last, /I open my eyes/ /and gaze out the round window./What is all the white? I whisper. /Where is all the world? ”

“This is from Katherine Applegate’s masterful novel-in-verse, HOME OF THE BRAVE. Civil war tears young Kek from his family and his cattle-herding village in the Sudan, and he is relocated in Minnesota in the middle of winter. He has never felt such cold, never seen or imagined snow or such a place as America. I love the way Applegate has this character express in such powerfully simple language experiences that he can barely comprehend, making the reader instantly curious and sympathetic.”

MICHAEL HAYS:

“He was the best of toms. He was the worst of toms.” – from THE CHESHIRE CHEESE CAT: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy & Ramdall Wright.

“This is a feline twist on A Tale of Two Cities in this great MG animal story told within the world of the inn where Charles Dickens spent quite a bit of time. Need I say more?”

T.P. JAGGER:

I’ve always liked the opening lines of SCHOOLED by Gordon Korman because it effectively introduces the 1st-person narrator’s voice while hinting at the plot enough to raise some questions that compel the reader (at least me!) to keep reading:

“I was thirteen the first time I saw a police officer up close. He was arresting me for driving without a license. At the time, I didn’t even know what a license was. I wasn’t too clear on what being arrested meant either.”

HILLARY HOMZIE, author of Queen of Likes:

“I love this first line because I just love Deborah Wiles writing: “I come from a family with a lot of dead people.”

It’s the first line of Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles (MG Harcourt, 2005).

The next lines after that: “Great-uncle Edisto keeled over with a stroke on a Saturday morning after breakfast last March. Six months later, Great-great-aunt Florentine died–just like that–in the vegetable garden. And of course there are all the dead people who rest temporarily downstairs, until they go off to the Snapfinger Cemetery.”

And on that funny “morbid” note, I want to give a huge thanks to all of our reader and writer experts on the subject of First Lines and Hooks! Now Go forth! Find a Great Hook Today or Write a Great Hook  – and Fall In Love at First Line!

Since I adore first lines, please share your favorite First Lines below in the comments!

Kimberley Griffiths Little has been juggling book launch parties for her FORBIDDEN trilogy (Harpercollins) with her right hand, twirling a handful of new characters with her left while drafting new book proposals with her toes. Throw in too many cookies, a household that never sleeps . . .and you have a typical day in the life of a writer on deadline. See Kimberley’s beautiful new website here: www.KimberleyGriffithsLittle.com. Friend her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kimberleygriffithslittle

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New School Blues

CountingThyme

Moving is always a challenge, especially when it involves a new school. Take it from this shy girl who went to three different kindergartens alone and moved more times than she cares to count. Whether it’s a new town or making the leap from elementary to middle school, here are some books to make life easier in the great unknown of a new home.

COUNTING THYME by Melanie Conklin (Putnam 2016) When eleven-year-old Thyme Owens’ little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush, and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours, and days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

With equal parts heart and humor, Melanie Conklin’s debut is a courageous and charming story of love and family—and what it means to be counted.

HootHOOT by Carl Hiaasen (Yearling 2006) Unfortunately, Roy’s first acquaintance in Florida is Dana Matherson, a well-known bully. Then again, if Dana hadn’t been sinking his thumbs into Roy’s temples and mashing his face against the school-bus window, Roy might never have spotted the running boy. And the running boy is intriguing: he was running away from the school bus, carried no books, and–here’s the odd part–wore no shoes. Sensing a mystery, Roy sets himself on the boy’s trail. The chase introduces him to potty-trained alligators, a fake-fart champion, some burrowing owls, a renegade eco-avenger, and several extremely poisonous snakes with unnaturally sparkling tails.
Roy has most definitely arrived in Carl Hiaasen’s Florida.

TheTroubleWithRulesTHE TROUBLE WITH RULES by Leslie Bulion (Peachtree 2008) For Nadine Rostraver, fourth grade means peer pressure and new social rules she hadn t anticipated. For one thing, girls aren t supposed to hang out with boys anymore. So where does that leave Nadine and her best friend Nick?

Then Summer Crawford arrives at Upper Springville Elementary and Nadine s life goes from bad to worse! Nadine loses her job as the art editor on the class newspaper The Springville Spark and gets in some serious trouble with her teacher, Mr. Allen.

But Summer is a free spirit who marches to her own beat. Slowly Nadine realizes that life can be a lot more fun if you call your own tune. Together Nadine, Nick, and Summer decide breaking the rules is sometimes the best thing you can do. Especially when the rules don t allow you to be yourself.

Author Leslie Bulion s sensitive, realistic look at adolescence and her humorous slant on its unique struggles will resonate with young readers who will recognize themselves and their own dilemmas in her well-drawn characters and their responses to a complicated world.

MovingDayMOVING DAY by Ralph Fletcher, illustrated by Jennifer Emery (Boyds Mills Press 2006) The traumas and trials of moving away are poignantly expressed in new poems from a respected writer. Fletch’s new Diamondback mountain bike and his brother’s new hockey outfit are unexpected gifts from Dad. When Dad announces, “We’re going to move to Ohio,” Fletch’s heart drops to his stomach. Leaving means selling the house, abandoning his best friends,and living next to Lake Erie. . . . Hey, didn’t that lake catch on fire? Ralph Feltcher’s poems evoke what’s hard about moving away as well as what makes moving day, well, maybe, okay.

SchooledSCHOOLED by Gordon Korman (Hyperion 2008-from Booklist’s red review) Homeschooled on an isolated “alternate farm commune” that has dwindled since the 1960s to 2 members, 13-year-old Cap has always lived with his grandmother, Rain. When she is hospitalized, Cap is taken in by a social worker and sent—like a lamb to slaughter—to middle school. Smart and capable, innocent and inexperienced (he learned to drive on the farm, but he has never watched television), long-haired Cap soon becomes the butt of pranks. He reacts in unexpected ways and, in the end, elevates those around him to higher ground. From chapter to chapter, the first-person narrative shifts among certain characters: Cap, a social worker (who takes him into her home), her daughter (who resents his presence there), an A-list bully, a Z-list victim, a popular girl, the school principal, and a football player (who unintentionally decks Cap twice in one day). Korman capably manages the shifting points of view of characters who begin by scorning or resenting Cap and end up on his side. From the eye-catching jacket art to the scene in which Cap says good-bye to his 1,100 fellow students, individually and by name, this rewarding novel features an engaging main character and some memorable moments of comedy, tenderness, and reflection.

HowToSurviveMiddleSchoolHOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL by Donna Gephart (Yearling 2008) Eleven-year-old David Greenberg dreams of becoming a YouTube sensation and spends all of his time making hilarious Top 6½ Lists and Talk Time videos. But before he can get famous, he has to figure out a way to deal with:

6. Middle school (much scarier than it sounds!)
5. His best friend gone girl-crazy
4. A runaway mom who has no phone!
3. The threat of a swirlie on his birthday
2. A terrifying cousin
1. His # 1 fan, Bubbe (his Jewish grandmother)
1/2. Did we mention Hammy, the hamster who’s determined to break David’s heart?

But when David’s new best friend, Sophie, starts sending out the links to everyone she knows and her friends tell their friends, thousands of people start viewing his videos.

AnastasiaAgain!ANASTASIA AGAIN! by Lois Lowry (Yearling 1982) Anastasia has grown to love her new little brother, Sam. But she is in for a new shock as her parents announce that they will be moving to the suburbs. Anastasia is sure that all suburbanites live drab, meaningless lives, and tries to prevent the move by requesting a room with a tower before she will consent to the move. Her parents, however, find just such a house, and Anastasia must confront her misconceptions. Her adventures in the suburbs involve meeting her new neighbors, including a cute boy who mows lawns, and a “witch” who lives next door.

WeAreAllMadeOfMoleculesWE ARE ALL MADE OF MOLECULES by Susin Nielsen (Ember 2016) Ashley’s and Stewart’s worlds collide when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. The Brady Bunch it isn’t. Stewart is trying to be 89.9 percent happy about it–he’s always wanted a sister. But Ashley is 110 percent horrified. She already has to hide the real reason her dad moved out; “Spewart” could further threaten her position at the top of the social ladder. They’re complete opposites, but they have one thing in common: they—like everyone else—are made of molecules.

TheKidInTheRedJacketTHE KID IN THE RED JACKET by Barbara Park (Random House 1988) Can Howard SURVIVE life without friends? Howard Jeeter’s parents have ruined his life. They’ve moved him across the country, and all the kids in his new town act like he’s totally invisible. At least, all of them except for his six-year-old neighbor, Molly Vera Thompson. Howard could use a friend. But a little girl who talks nonstop? Not what he had in mind. Still, when you’re really lonely, you’ll be friends with anyone…right?

 

NewBoy

NEW BOY by Nick Earls (Puffin 2015) Adjusting to a new country and a new school was never going to be easy for Herschelle. The food is strange, it’s so different to South Africa and, worst of all, no one understands the Aussie slang he’s learnt on the web. But it’s the similarities that make things really hard. Herschelle will have to confront racism, bullying and his own past before Australia can feel like home…

 

 

EllieMcDoodle

ELLIE MCDOODLE NEW KID IN SCHOOL by Ruth McNally Barshaw (Bloomsbury 2009) When Ellie’s family moves to a new town, she’s sure she won’t fit in. Nobody else likes to read as much as she does, and even the teachers can’t get her name right. But when the students need someone to help them rally against unfair lunch lines, it’s Ellie to the rescue―and if shorter lines and better food prevail, can friendship be far behind?

 

 

WonderWONDER by R.J. Palacio (Knopf 2012) August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school―until now. He’s about to enter fifth grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid, then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has crafted an uplifting novel full of wonderfully realistic family interactions, lively school scenes, and writing that shines with spare emotional power.

What other books can you recommend to help kids ease into the daunting world of a new school?

Louise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD and IN TODD WE TRUST (Razorbill). 

Great Books for New Middle Schoolers

bus

It’s August now, folks, and that means school is starting soon. (dun dun DUUUN) For no one is that more ominous, perhaps, than those starting middle school. What is it about middle school that makes grown men and women shudder?

I think it’s a combination of factors, any of which on their own would be challenging. First, it’s a new school, with the added small-fish-in-a-big-pond element. That can lead to trying on new identities, but all of your old friends (and enemies) are still with you, which can cause tension. The schoolwork is more challenging. It’s when puberty is at its most extreme poles, with some twelve-year-olds looking like they’re eight years old, and others looking like they’re eighteen. Some middle schoolers are starting to have crushes, and are craving more freedom than their parents are probably comfortable with. Oh, and braces. And pimples. To top it all off, it’s also the age when a lot of kids are getting cell phones, and exploring social media for the first time. (shudder)

Fortunately, there are a lot of wonderful middle grade books out there to help kids navigate this time, or at least make them laugh along the way. (All descriptions are from IndieBound, which is also linked for each book.)

Queen of Likes by Hillary Homzie: A tween social media queen is forced to give up her phone and learn that there’s more to life than likes in this M X novel from the author of “The Hot List.”

Karma Cooper is a seventh grader with thousands of followers on SnappyPic. Before Karma became a social media celebrity, she wasn’t part of the in-crowd at Merton Middle School. But thanks to one serendipitous photo, Karma has become a very popular poster on SnappyPic. Besides keeping up with all of her followers, like most kids at MMS, her smartphone a bejeweled pink number Karma nicknamed Floyd is like a body part she could never live without.

But after breaking some basic phone rules, Karma’s cruel, cruel parents take Floyd away, and for Karma, her world comes to a screeching halt. Can Karma, who can text, post photos, play soccer, and chew gum all at the same time, learn to go cold turkey and live her life fully unplugged?

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead: Bridge is an accident survivor who’s wondering why she’s still alive. Emily has new curves and an almost-boyfriend who wants a certain kind of picture. Tabitha sees through everybody’s games or so she tells the world. The three girls are best friends with one rule: No fighting. Can it get them through seventh grade?

This year everything is different for Sherm Russo as he gets to know Bridge Barsamian. What does it mean to fall for a girl as a friend?

On Valentine’s Day, an unnamed high school girl struggles with a betrayal. How long can she hide in plain sight?

Each memorable character navigates the challenges of love and change in this captivating novel.

Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur: Elise and Franklin have always been best friends. Elise has always lived in the big house with her loving Uncle and Aunt, because Elise’s parents died when she was too young to remember them. There’s always been a barn behind the house with eight locked doors on the second floor.

When Elise and Franklin start middle school, things feel all wrong. Bullying. Not fitting in. Franklin suddenly seems babyish. Then, soon after her 12th birthday, Elise receives a mysterious key left for her by her father. A key that unlocks one of the eight doors upstairs in the barn…

The Dirt Diary by Anna Staniszewski: Eighth grade never smelled so bad.

Rachel can’t believe she has to give up her Saturdays to scrubbing other people’s toilets. So. Gross. But she kinda, sorta stole $287.22 from her college fund that she’s got to pay back ASAP or her mom will ground her for life. Which is even worse than working for her mother’s new cleaning business. Maybe. After all, becoming a maid is definitely not going to help her already loserish reputation.

But Rachel picks up more than smelly socks on the job. As maid to some of the most popular kids in school, Rachel suddenly has all the dirt on the 8th grade in-crowd. Her formerly boring diary is now filled with juicy secrets. And when her crush offers to pay her to spy on his girlfriend, Rachel has to decide if she’s willing to get her hands dirty…

Smile by Reina Telgemeier: Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader. But one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, severely injuring her two front teeth. What follows is a long and frustrating journey with on-again, off-again braces, surgery, embarrassing headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached. And on top of all that, there’s still more to deal with: a major earthquake, boy confusion, and friends who turn out to be not so friendly.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander: 2015 Newbery Medal Winner, 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor Award Winner. “With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I m delivering,” announces dread-locked, 12-year-old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother, Jordan, are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander.

Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

My Seventh Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin: Football hero. Ninja freestyler. It’s seventh grade. Anything is possible.

All Dillon wants is to be a real dancer. And if he wins a summer scholarship at Dance-Splosion, he’s on his way. The problem? His dad wants him to play football. And Dillon’s freestyle crew, the Dizzee Freekz, says that dance studios are for sellouts. His friends want Dillon to kill it at the audition so he can turn around and tell the studio just how wrong their rules and creativity-strangling ways are.

At first, Dillon’s willing to go along with his crew’s plan, even convincing one of the snobbiest girls at school to work with him on his technique. But as Dillon’s dancing improves, he wonders: what if studios aren t the enemy? And what if he actually has a shot at winning the scholarship?

Dillon’s life is about to get crazy . . . on and off the dance floor in this kid-friendly humorous debut by Brooks Benjamin.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt: A “New York Times” Bestseller. The author of the beloved “One for the Murphys” gives readers an emotionally-charged, uplifting novel that will speak to anyone who’s ever thought there was something wrong with them because they didn t fit in.

Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.

Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions. She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her and to everyone than a label, and that great minds don t always think alike.

33 Minutes by Todd Hasak-Lowy: Sam Lewis is going to get his butt kicked in exactly thirty-three minutes. He knows this because yesterday his former best friend Morgan Sturtz told him, to his face and with three witnesses nearby, I am totally going to kick your butt tomorrow at recess.

All that’s standing between Sam and this unfortunate butt-kicking is the last few minutes of social studies and his lunch period. But how did Sam and Morgan end up here? How did this happen just a few months after TAMADE (The Absolutely Most Amazing Day Ever), when they became the greatest “Alien Wars” video game team in the history of great “Alien Wars” teams? And once the clock ticks down, will Morgan actually act on his threat?

Told with equal parts laugh-out-loud humor and achingly real emotional truth, “33 Minutes” shows how even the best of friendships can change forever.

Stealing Popular by Trudi Trueit: In middle school, popularity is power and in this modern spin on a Robin Hood tale, Coco Sherwood is bringing justice to the social scene.

At Briar Green Middle School, you are either a Somebody, a Sorta-body, or a Nobody. Twelve-year-old Coco Sherwood falls directly in the Nobody category – the kids who are considered the misfits and outcasts of the school. It’s not fair. It’s not right. And it’s time to even the score.

With clever planning and sneaky tactics, Coco becomes the Robin Hood of Briar Green. Girls who never thought they had a chance to be noticed are now making cheer squad and turning into beauty queens. But when Coco takes on the ultimate challenge taking down Popular Girl #1 Dijon Randle her dream of equality on the middle-school social ladder may turn into a nightmare. Can Coco and the rest of the Nobodies triumph in a world where popularity is power? Or will the Somebodies win again?

The Sleepover by Jen Malone: From the author of “At Your Service” and the coauthor of “You re Invited “comes a laugh-out-loud romp about three besties who must piece together what happened after an epic sleepover becomes more than just karaoke and sundaes.

Meghan, Paige, and Anna-Marie are super excited for the Best. Night. Ever. The sleepover they’re planning is going to be nothing short of EPIC. Not even the last-minute addition of Anna-Marie’s socially awkward, soon-to-be stepsister Veronica can dampen their spirits.

But nothing prepares them for the scene that greets them when they awaken the next morning: the basement is a disaster, Meghan’s left eyebrow has been shaved off and she is somehow in possession of the Class Bad Boy’s signature hoodie, and there’s a slew of baby chicks in the bathtub. Worst of all, Anna-Marie is missing.

Trouble is, none of them can remember anything beyond the hypnotism trick performed by the two-bit magician Veronica arranged in an effort to impress the other girls. Now, as the clock is ticking and the clues continue to get weirder, the remaining girls must figure out exactly what happened the night before. Can they find Anna-Marie and pull off the ultimate save-face before parent pick-up time?

I Funny, A Middle School Story by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein: Jamie Grimm is a middle schooler on a mission: he wants to become the world’s greatest standup comedian–even if he doesn’t have a lot to laugh about these days. He’s new in town and stuck living with his aunt, uncle, and their evil son Stevie, a bully who doesn’t let Jamie’s wheelchair stop him from messing with Jamie as much as possible. But Jamie doesn’t let his situation get him down. When his Uncle Frankie mentions a contest called The Planet’s Funniest Kid Comic, Jamie knows he has to enter. But are the judges only rewarding him out of pity because of his wheelchair, like Stevie suggests? Will Jamie ever share the secret of his troubled past instead of hiding behind his comedy act?

Following the bestselling success of the hilarious “Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life,” James Patterson continues to dish out the funnies in another highly-illustrated, heartfelt middle school story. (Includes more than 175 black-and-white illustrations.)

Awkward by Svetlana Chmokova: Cardinal rule #1 for surviving school: Don’t get noticed by the mean kids.

Cardinal rule #2 for surviving school: Seek out groups with similar interests and join them.

On her first day at her new school, Penelope–Peppi–Torres reminds herself of these basics. But when she trips into a quiet boy in the hall, Jaime Thompson, she’s already broken the first rule, and the mean kids start calling her the “nerder girlfriend.” How does she handle this crisis? By shoving poor Jaime and running away.

Falling back on rule two and surrounding herself with new friends in the art club, Peppi still can’t help feeling ashamed about the way she treated Jaime. Things are already awkward enough between the two, but to make matters worse, he’s a member of her own club’s archrivals–the science club. And when the two clubs go to war, Peppi realizes that sometimes you have to break the rules to survive middle school.

How to Survive Middle School by Donna Gephart: Eleven-year-old David Greenberg dreams of becoming a YouTube sensation and spends all of his time making hilarious Top 6½ Lists and Talk Time videos. But before he can get famous, he has to figure out a way to deal with:

6. Middle school (much scarier than it sounds )
5. His best friend gone girl-crazy
4. A runaway mom who has no phone
3. The threat of a swirlie on his birthday
2. A terrifying cousin
1. His # 1 fan, Bubbe (his Jewish grandmother)
1/2. Did we mention Hammy, the hamster who’s determined to break David’s heart?

But when David’s new best friend, Sophie, starts sending out the links to everyone she knows and her friends tell their friends, thousands of people start viewing his videos.

Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf by Jennifer L Holm: Ginny has ten items on her big to-do list for seventh grade. None of them, however, include accidentally turning her hair pink. Or getting sent to detention for throwing frogs in class. Or losing the lead role in the ballet recital to her ex-best friend. Or the thousand other things that can go wrong between September and June. But it looks like it’s shaping up to be that kind of a year

As readers follow Ginny throughout the story of her year, told entirely through her stuff notes from classmates, school reports, emails, poems, receipts, and cartoons from her perpetually-in-trouble older brother Harry a portrait emerges of a funny, loveable, thoughtful girl struggling to be herself whoever that person turns out to be.

Katie Friedman Gives Up Texting! (And Lives to Tell About It.) by Tommy Greenwald: When a text goes wrong, Katie Friedman learns the hard way that sometimes you need to disconnect to connect.

Here are a few things you need to know about Katie Friedman:

  1. Katie is swearing off phones for life (No, seriously. She just sent the wrong text to the wrong person.)
  2. She wants to break up with her boyfriend. (Until, that is, he surprises her with front row tickets to her favorite band, Plain Jane. Now what?)
  3. She wants to be a rock star (It’s true. She has a band and everything.)
  4. Her best friend is Charlie Joe Jackson. (Yeah, you know the guy.)
  5. And most importantly, Katie’s been offered the deal of a lifetime get ten of her friends to give up their phones for one week and everyone can have backstage passes to Plain Jane. (A whole week? Is that even possible?)

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied by Jess Keating: Ana Wright’s social life is now officially on the endangered list: she lives in a zoo (umm, elephant droppings ?), her best friend lives on the other side of the world, and the Sneerers are making junior high miserable. All Ana wants is to fade into the background.

Yeah, that’s not going to happen.

Creature File for Ana Wright:
Species Name: Anaphyta Normalis
Kingdom: The Zoo, Junior High
Phylum: Girls Whose Best Friend Just Moved To New Zealand; Girls Who Are Forced To Live In A Zoo With Their Weirdo Parents And Twin Brother
Weight: Classified
Feeds On: Daydreams about Zackardia Perfecticus and wish cupcakes
Life Span: Soon to become extinct due to social awkwardness

Katharine Manning is a middle grade writer still recovering from her middle school years. You can read more of her book recommendations at Kid Book List. You can also find her online at www.katharinemanning.com, and on Twitter