Legends of Lotus Island: The Guardian Test is the first installment in a new series by Christina Soontornvat. In this fantasy series targeted for middle grade readers, Soontornvat introduces a cast of characters with Plum as the protagonist and creates a mysterious setting called Lotus Island. Because a storm capsized her parents’ boat on the open sea, Plum is an orphan living with her grandparents. Gardening, talking to the worms, fox bats, and other creatures while also taking care of Tansy the goat consume Plum’s days. However, her grandparents are afraid they are holding Plum back from something more significant. Without consulting Plum, Grandpa completesRead More →

As the title implies, a reader should be prepared to be confused when reading Katzenjammer by Francesca Zappia. The novel takes the reader down a nightmarish path of distress experienced by the main character, Cat. While it is clear that Cat suffers from depression and bewilderment in a world that makes no sense to her, the reason for that distress is not made clear until the novel’s conclusion. Through Cat, readers encounter a version of school that is unfortunately all too real for some students who experience bullying because of their differences. The dichotomy of us versus them is set out early in the novel.Read 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 →

With his novel—You Only Live Once, David Bravo—Mark Oshiro writes a time-bending adventure story for middle grade readers. The two protagonists, David Bravo and Antoine Harris have been friends forever, but now that they are entering Mira Monte Middle School in California, their lives are about to change drastically. When his teacher Mr. Bradshaw invites the class to give a short, introduce-yourself presentation about their cultures and backgrounds, David is faced with indecision. What does he include or leave out? Adopted as an infant, David’s knowledge of his origin story is limited. As he overthinks the task, David faces an identity crisis: Who is he?Read 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 →

Readers of Katherine Patterson will likely appreciate Yonder by Ali Standish. The community of Foggy Gap proves the world is a confusing place—with gaps in understanding and with clarity of vision required on subjects like justice, prejudice, war, and courage. Set in the early 1940s, Standish shares a perspective of what the years surrounding World War II may have been like in the United States. Her story suggests that the country’s role in WWII is more complicated than many of us are taught to believe, especially in the way in which news about Hitler’s Jewish extermination campaign was publicized or received limited coverage. For theRead More →

Unable to make her adoptive mother, Leanne Parkman, happy, Rynn gives up after Mom critiqued her homemade birthday gift placemats sewn by Rynn at age twelve. Although Rynn compares Mom to a dormant volcano that explodes without warning, she loves her Jewish father who was raised in New York but now grows garlic on a farm in Maine. Rynn’s birthmother was twenty when she gave birth to baby girl and named her Scheherazade. Legend defines the name, but Rynn decides it might be a survival trick for her: “I’m wondering if my birthmother wanted me to know that in order to survive without the truthRead 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 →

Robby Weber writes a romantic-comedy that moves beyond what I define as a beach book, a sugary treat to indulge a craving but not necessarily one that prompts deep thought. With his novel If You Change Your Mind, Weber explores topics like relationships and finding the core of what matters. Even though real life and romantic comedies are very different things, under the influence of Weber’s pen, we realize that similarities do exist. To assist the reader in seeing some of these, each chapter is named for or alludes to a rom-com film to parallel the plot. Some of these include You’ve Got Mail, Serendipity,Read More →