Set in London in 1963, Wildoak by C.C. Harrington features eleven-year-old Margaret Stephens. Maggie stutters, but not whenever she speaks to her pet mouse Wellington or to the injured dove Flute whose wing she has wrapped for healing or to the two snails, Spitfire and Hurricaine, whom she has rescued from the garden. Still, it’s not her gifts that she sees. Maggie sees herself as broken, a child that doesn’t work properly. Some of these fears derive from people’s reactions to her blocking and her inability to get the words out. Her father even threatens to send her to Granville, a special school where rumorRead More →

In her new book for middle-grade readers, The Secret Battle of Evan Pao, Wendy Wan-Long Shang not only explores how young people often deal with conflict but also wonders about their capacity for reconciliation. Through her main character, sixth grader Evan Pao, Shang shares what it means to be “Mr. Sensitive” in a world that often shows no mercy. A human lie-detector with bright and curious eyes, Evan has a sense for when people are not telling the truth. However, his ability fails him when it comes to his father’s swindling ways, which ultimately force the family to flee their home in California. Their moveRead More →

It’s the first day of seventh grade, and Maggie Diaz is eager for the new freedoms that West Memorial Middle School in Miami will hold. However, this messy and forgetful gal with strict Cuban parents discovers that life at this age and stage is complicated. Maggie has no phone, shares a bedroom with her abuela, and endures chaos at home with a teenage sister, a brand-new baby brother, a mother who is trying to complete her accounting degree, and a father who is working out of town. Furthermore, she feels left behind by her friends who are moving forward with their own interests. like bandRead More →

With his novel Falling Short, Ernesto Cisneros writes a motivational book for middle grade readers. Taking inspiration from his own life and from a quote by Michelangelo, Cisneros concurs that “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.” To convey this moral, Cisneros creates Isaac Castillo and Marco Honeyman, two sixth graders at Mendez Middle School, who are looking for approval from their absent fathers. A talented basketball player, Isaac is dedicated to the sport and to the idea of teamwork. His best friendRead More →

Readers of Carl Hiaasen, Sneed Collard, and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Vet Volunteers series will likely be drawn to Evan Griffith’s debut novel for middle grade readers, Manatee Summer. Griffith tells the story of Peter Harrison and Tommy Saunders, two Florida youth who will enter sixth grade in the fall. The pair plans to spend their summer completing their Discovery Journal, a project that they began two years ago in which they catalog every animal species they see in the wild. Each discovery in the two hundred-page journal gets two pages. On one, Tommy records research notes; on another, Peter draws pictures. These two lovers ofRead More →

Told via text messages and news alerts, This Is Not a Drill by K.A. Holt reveals the story of Ava McDaniels and her drama with separating parents and friends who can’t keep secrets. Char has told Elena Ava’s secret, so while Ava and Char engage in a stand-off, Elena tries to remain neutral—like Switzerland. Notoriously forgetting to read the notifications on the Lila O’Leary Middle School App and to keep her phone charged, Ava finds herself trapped in a classroom when an intruder enters the school. Now the school is on lockdown and one of the sixth graders, Diego, needs an inhaler. As her phoneRead More →

A historical reenactor in his own youth, author Michael Leali not only writes about his experiences in The Civil War of Amos Abernathy but invites all readers to challenge the histories we have been told. In this debut novel targeted for young readers, Leali focuses on thirteen-year-old Amos as he battles against entrenched attitudes and fights for his friends Ben Oglevie—a young man whose parents are homophobic—and Chloe Thompson—a young Black woman who wants to share the truth about her ancestors. Reenacting 19th Century History is like time travel for Amos, who works as a junior volunteer at the Living History Park (LHP) in AppleRead More →

Fight + Flight by Jules Machias is a book for any young reader looking for a story that shows how to face a barrage of struggles that seem to occur simultaneously. A pansexual thirteen-year-old with lots of sass, Avery Hart loves dirt bikes because they’re “buzzy and beautiful.” This bold and assertive girl dreams of becoming “a robotics engineer who invents adorable AI assistants that do boring chores like washing dishes and folding laundry and cleaning the bathroom” (26). Diagnosed with the hypermobile type of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (hEDS), Avery’s body presents a series of challenges. Although she has always been rubber-band flexible, now she isRead More →

Written for middle grade readers, The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei by Christina Matula is a strong reminder that things don’t always go as planned and that life doesn’t follow some script. Besides sharing the experiences of seventh grader, Holly-Mei Jones, a mixed Taiwanese Canadian who moves abroad to Hong Kong, Matula imparts a rich mix of cultural details—including mores for behavior like guanxi (relationships, connections, network) and multiple gustatory delights like bolo bao (pineapple buns) and jiaozi (dumplings). She even includes recipes following the book’s glossary of the Mandarin, Cantonese, and Taiwanese words, sayings, and other terms used in the novel. While heritage is aRead More →