Told in three parts, The Leopard Behind the Moon is written like an oral legend. Mayonn Paasewe-Valchev sets her tale in Sesa—a faraway place amid the marula trees where a group of people live in a village with strict laws about not going out at night or opening the magical door that protects them all. However, on the three-year anniversary of his father’s death, ten-year-old Ezomo sees the leopard that killed his father and feels compelled to follow it. His foolhardiness involves two of his friends: Muja and Chimama, and the three have quite an adventure.  Ezomo discovers that although the night is dark andRead More →

Better with Butter by Victoria Piontek takes on the topic of mental health awareness. Her novel features twelve-year-old Marvel McKenna who lives with an anxiety disorder. When she’s not thinking of global, world-ending tragedies, Marvel is thinking of small “me-centric concerns.”  In fact, her insides feel like a forest with “one worry pollinating another” (70). Targeting middle school readers, Piontek’s storyline opens the dialogue about mental challenges. Through Marvel, young readers will come to know that pep talks don’t magic someone back to health, nor can anxiety be teased or bullied out of a person either.  What people with such a condition need most isRead More →

Set in North Carolina, The Mending Summer by Ali Standish tells the story of twelve-year-old Georgia Collins whose heart is breaking as she struggles to put her Humpty Dumpty family back together. Pursuing their own dreams, her mother is studying long hours for a degree in biology so that she can work in a lab, and her accountant father moonlights as a piano player who comes home transformed by alcohol into the Shadow Man, no longer the Daddy she knows and loves. To protect Georgia from the fighting and the shame and to give herself more study time, Mama arranges for her daughter to summer inRead More →

September 11, 2021 will mark the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, and Alan Gratz’s book Ground Zero is here to bring that history to middle grade readers. Told in alternating perspectives between Brandon Chavez, a nine-year-old living in New York City in 2001, and Reshmina, an eleven-year-old girl living in Afghanistan in 2019, the two tales run parallel to one another but ultimately intersect in a surprising twist. As the novel opens, Brandon has been suspended for punching a bully in the nose, and because his mother has died and no one is available to watch him at home, he has to accompany his father toRead More →

A form of cognitive efficiency, labeling helps people make sense of their worlds. Although labels give our brains the ability to categorize and to draw useful conclusions, they can also limit thinking and lead to stereotypes. With labels like normal, mentally ill, or bipolar, we not only make assumptions about others but about ourselves and our potential abilities. These assumptions can even influence our identities. It is this identity labeling that concerns Journey Smith, the seventeen-year-old protagonist in Faith Gardner’s novel Girl on the Line. Journey doubts the truth about many of the things the world tells her and believes that her brain ruins everything asRead More →

Betita is a nine-year-old girl with a loving family in modern-day America. She enjoys learning new words, spelling, drawing, and playing with other kids her age. What appears to be a rather normal life quickly begins to unravel into fear and uncertainty when her Papi doesn’t pick her up after school one day. After failing to reach her father, the principal drives Betita home. While her mother tries to hide her worry, Betita knows something is wrong, and she soon finds out that the almost-worst has happened. Her father has been deported, leaving her mother, who is newly pregnant, and Betita to fend for themselvesRead More →

Given the coronavirus pandemic currently sweeping the world, Katharyn Blair‘s novel Unchosen is eerily relevant. Fans of Suzanne Collins, Scott Westerfeld, Mercedes Lackey, and Brandon Sanderson will also cheer for the strong female characters and appreciate the engaging and action-packed story. In Blair’s dystopia, someone has knowingly or inadvertently unleashed the Crimson, a virus-like curse that causes the end of the world as we know it. Rather than wearing face masks, people wear blindfolds because looking into the wrong eyes is a death sentence. When infected, a person’s irises turn from their natural color to purple and then to red. That individual has only oneRead 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 →

Like a tower built from Jenga blocks, eleven-year-old Piper Trudeau’s former life in Cypress Point, Texas, all comes crashing down after a series of unfortunate events: her parents’ job hours cut, lost jobs, unexpected medical bills, car trouble, bills piling up, and eventually an eviction.  Now, she and her family are homeless and living in a shelter in Idaho—experiencing new places and new people and learning that a rough patch can seem like a “football field full of briars” (39). But this is only one plot thread in Stay by Bobbie Pyron, a novel targeted for middle grade readers that alternates between the story ofRead More →