Robert Lang (aka Bobby) lives in a green house in the junkyard at the dark end of a godless trail amidst trees so thick “the sun gets stuck in the branches” (9). Because the junk molders around him and because young people are often cruel, his peers nickname him Junk; his dad, Jimmy, calls him Slug. Bobby feels inadequate to meet the demands of the world in which he finds himself, one where his father is a drunk and lives with a limp, his mother abandons him a year after his birth, and he appears lost, empty, and friendless. At fifteen, Bobby is short, somewhatRead More →

The Ninth Life by Taylor B. Barton is a book about hope, family, grief, friendship, romance, and identity. But most of all, it is a book about fighting for love—that raw, untamed, and messy emotion—and a book about the monstrosity of being human, which is both horrible and beautiful. As Caesar’s feline life is coming to a close, a life bursting with endless amounts of love, he can’t imagine living without Ophelia Matherson and her dog Missy. His life as Ophelia’s cat was a full one; it had taught him kindness and brought him friendship. In that life, he loved a girl who loved himRead More →

Although Cynthia Voigt’s newest book, Little Bird, has a target audience of middle-grade readers, with its anthropomorphism, it joins beast fables like Monkey Wars by Richard Kurti and Watership Down by Richard Adams, adding its own brand of commentary on human societies and behaviors. The title character, Little Bird belongs to a small flock of crows who forage, guard against danger, and live out their short lives near Old Davis Farm. However, Little Bird doesn’t have the sharp-beaked, sharp-clawed, and sharp-spoken way of other crows. She discovers additional differences between herself and other crows, when the flock loses a good luck charm called Our Luck,Read More →

Through her newest middle grade novel, One Time, Sharon Creech reminds us all how our lives can be forever impacted by a highly effective teacher. She also reminds readers of the power of writing, while inspiring the imagination with two explicitly asked questions: 1) Who are you? and 2) Who could you become? Miss Lightstone poses these questions to her class. Because they are ingrained by “doing school” a certain way, the class initially resists. However, with intentional lessons, well-executed pedagogical moves, careful chosen words, and key dispositions on Miss Lightstone’s part, soon they are experimenting, engaging, and performing without grades in what feels likeRead More →

I suspect that many adolescent readers will find themselves in the pages of Francina Simone’s novel Smash It! The leading female in this book, which is dedicated to “theater kids,” seventeen-year-old Olivia James-Johnson considers herself a nerdy loser, a sad black girl with a “too curvy” body, and someone who does uncool things since she’s addicted to self-sabotage. Because she lacks self-confidence, she passes up doing what she wants because she’s afraid of being judged or looking like a clown. A talented flutist who loves dancing, she can find a beat and step into it with her whole body. “When I dance, I feel likeRead More →

Featuring illustrations by Robin Boyden, Get Me Out of Here! by Andy McNab and Phil Earle is a humorous novel written for middle grade readers.  The plot revolves around eleven-year-old Danny Mack’s desire to attend what he believes will be an epic, adventure-filled school field trip with mountaineering, kayaking, and zip-lining.  However, the trip costs more than his mother can afford. So, in order to raise the $150.00 participation fee, Danny undertakes a series of “get rich quick” schemes. His best friend Thomas Jefferson Raffles (aka Giraffles), who is always willing to stick his neck out for a pal, helps Danny to realize he’s notRead More →

Attracted to the bold, the risky, and the unknown, Hattie Darrow plays Don Quixote to Reid MacGregory’s role as Sancho Panza. Reid is content playing Hattie’s side-kick extraordinaire in pranks and at parties.  Where Reid is calm and reasonable, Hattie is spontaneous and daring; her energy luminesces around her.  From the time Reid met Hattie in middle school, Reid saw her potential and declared: “Being Hattie Darrow’s friend would make me better” (51). As the two are about to enter their senior year in high school, Hattie is still Reid’s social oxygen.  “Humiliation is a language [Hattie] doesn’t speak, and she doesn’t want [Reid] toRead More →

Jasbinder Bilan’s debut novel for middle grade readers, Asha and the Spirit Bird, is one rich with cultural detail and adventure. Set in a village in India called Moormandali, Bilan includes many Hindi and Punjabi words to add authenticity to the telling of this coming of age, epic journey. The story features eleven-year-old Asha Kumar and her twelve-year-old best friend, Jeevan Singh Gill.  The two children sneak away from home to travel from their village in the foothills of the Himalayas to find Asha’s papa in Zandapur. The journey calls on the children’s perseverance, courage, hope, and conviction that they will be successful.  Along theRead More →

Like nightmares, scary stories are a sort of dress rehearsal for real-life fear, helping children learn to cope with the emotion in a low-stakes setting.  After all, the world can be a scary place where children will encounter frightful situations—such as getting lost, losing friends, being less loved than a sibling, or experiencing abandonment as a result of parental death or divorce.  Therefore, knowing how to confront fear can benefit children and help them cope with difficulty. Scary stories like Dan Poblocki’s Ghost Hunter’s Daughter, targeted for middle grade readers in the eight to twelve year old age group, not only help children forge resilience but give them a senseRead More →