Category Archives: middle grade

Final frontiers and beyond. With poison.

waste of spaceOne reason I love pretty much any book by Stuart Gibbs is that he throws in interesting facts, and he’s done all kinds of research, just so he can drop a line or two in the middle of an otherwise action-packed and kind of silly story, and suddenly you’ve learned something about rocket science.  Look through his website ( and you’ll see what I mean  In a world of fake news, this is – for book-loving nerds – like strawberry pie on a summer day.  I don’t really know where I was going with that.  I might just have been thinking about strawberry pie.

In any case, right in there with the mystery about who poisoned an entitled rick jerk named Lars is some cool space travel information about what life on the moon might really be like, as well as an explanation of how someone might make cyanide on the moon.  You never know what you’ll come across.

It’s the last of the Moon Base Alpha series, but I know he’ll be on to something else awesome, so it’s ok.  It’s really ok.  Really.

Waste of Space by Stuart Gibbs

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charlie and frogIf you throw in Charlie, too, it’s probably super excellent.

Charlie is just an afterthought for his globe-trotting, animal-saving parents and the tv-obsessed grandparents he’s been left with until he hops on the gondola – A GONDOLA, people! – and goes across the river to Castle-on-the-Hudson, where the Castle Family runs a school for the deaf.  The village is full of folks who can sign and/or speak, helping Charlie and his new friend, Frog, communicate and start to unravel a mystery.

The Castles — Frog’s family – are getting ready for a big school event and Charlie’s grandparents are more interested in infomercials than him, so Charlie and Frog have the freedom to roam the village, investigate the graveyard, ask questions and observe.

It’s a sweet and fun mystery, both because of the veiled references to Nancy Drew and other kid crime-fighters and because of the opportunity to see hearing and deaf characters interact so realistically in an adventure.  Signing is always an ability here rather than the result of the opposite, and that is great for both the hearing and the deaf kids who might read it.

Charlie and Frog by Karen Kane

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Throw it all in a blender

The-2BParker-2BInheritance-2Bfinal-2Bcover-2B-25281-2529-202x300History, mysteries, love, friendship, sacrifice, mistakes, an homage.

I’m telling you, people, I think I’m out of superlatives for this one.  That’s why I had to start with a list.  There’s so much in it – from today’s bullies all the way back to those from the past, choices we make every day to stand up or shut up, right on down the line to lost love and finding the people who become your family.

This one’s a keeper, and its love for one of my favorites – The Westing Game – is just one more way it reached out and grabbed me.  Books like this are gateways to all kinds of things – learning about the real history that inspires them, reading other books of all kinds, asking questions about our own families and who we are – and it’s all good.  It’s all good.

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

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Building a strong community with tiger grass and calypso

new shoesNew Shoes is a story of friendship, taking risks, rescues, and listening to people who don’t agree with you about how they see a situation.  Is it possible that someone else might look at a situation in a completely different but also correct way?  What a mind-blowing idea in this world of fake news and polarized political life!  But I digress.

Francis the Donkey is out there doing his thing in the world, producing amazing shoes from the best materials.  He’s just gotten a commission from one of his favorite singers – a manatee who sings calypso – and then one of his suppliers goes missing.  What to do?  If you’re Francis, you find a friend and go looking, hoping for the best in an entirely new place.  You also take reference materials about what you’ll see, so that you don’t look like a fool in front of the capybara and pale-throated three-toed sloth.  You ask questions; you figure things out.  Sometimes you aren’t 100% happy with what you learn, but you look for solutions instead of playing the blame game.  In the end, you just might find you’ve gained more than you could possibly expect, and you’ll also have some awesome ideas for new shoes.

New Shoes by Sara Varon

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Political turmoil & your daily life

night diaryYou wake up.  You get up.  You live your life.  Life changes. Repeat.

There are always things happening that can jolt your life right off its safe trajectory even in the middle of middle America – illness, death, losing a job.  There’s trouble everywhere, whether you’re in River City or not.

But, given that we’re citizens and  privileged in more ways than we probably realize, we don’t expect some national policy change to completely screw up our lives.  We don’t think we’ll have to move, simply because we’re one religion or another.  We don’t think we’ll lose our home and even some people we consider family.  We don’t expect to have to walk to the other side of a border and through a desert and just hope that no one kills us on the way.

Life and history is not like that, however, for all kinds of people in the world.  And that’s why this book is such an eye-opening and powerful thing.  Nisha is telling her story and the story of what happened when British rule left India and a national decision meant that millions of people had to move in one direction or the other.  She’s just a kid, but as the world swirls around her and flings people one direction or another, she has choices to make of her own.


The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

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Graphic novel? Picture book? Both?

small thingsI hadn’t thought about it lately, but this book reminded me that even the shape of a book sometimes leads you to make assumptions about who it should speak to.  This one is big, like a picture book, although the format is more graphic novel-like.  There’s no real text to help you out, either, and it’s all grayscale, so even the colors don’t clue you in.

It could be a way to talk through how the small things in life wear at you, tear you apart, leave you without defenses to meanness or negativity.  It could be a path into a discussion about depression and how it affects people (large and small).  It is on the edge of breath-taking and has a hint of hopefulness about it, but only at the very end, and that feeling for me does not overwhelm the sadness or grayness of it all.

I showed it to my husband who doesn’t read many picture books or graphic novels, and he commented that it really wasn’t what he expected.  Exactly.  It doesn’t make it better or worse, but it left me wondering if I needed to have a stronger opinion about it than just, “wow.”  See what you think.

small things  by Mel Tregonning

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Dreamers and doers

reboundare your choices still bronze, not quite perfect but trying?

when you leap for an apple, do your fingers touch air?


do you smile at a challenge, at the roxies and cjs?

do you trust too much, when your voice isn’t clear?


strong women, strong men

they make up a family

you are part of that, too

young charlie, chuck bell

In honor of National Poetry Month, and Rebound, Kwame Alexander’s stellar new novel in verse.


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Sunny spins. Sunny shines.

sunny-9781481450218_lgWhat I know about throwing a discus could fit on a baby’s fingernail, but you know what?  It just doesn’t matter if Jason Reynolds is writing about it.  I love Sunny as much I love Ghost and Patina and the rest of the team.  They are everyboys and everygirls.  We read about them and we know, deep inside, that while they look good on the outside — just like us– and can kick butt on the track –maybe not like us– they have problems, just like we all do, and they have the power to overcome them, especially if they’ve got a team, a family, some support.

And that’s the key for me and reading Jason Reynolds.  He is not writing for me, but he’s really writing for all of us, because his stories are so universal.  The representation he brings to and the light he shines on stories for kids is so important for kids who look like Sunny on the outside, and for kids who look like Sunny on the inside, and for kids who don’t look like Sunny at all inside or out, because these stories speak to us all.

Also, I feel like the beginning is very jazz and poetic and a little wacky.  And I totally dig that.

If you haven’t read the other two in the series, don’t miss them, either:

Ghost  — liowabrary review

Patinaliowabrary review

Sunny by Jason Reynolds

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Clem Hetherington – archaeologist, orphan, risk-taker

clemMiss J. at the library suggested this one, and it’s a thrill ride from page one.

Clementine Hetherington is on the run from pretty much everyone, including the police, bad guys, supposed good guys, and fellow competitors in the Ironwood Race.  Fortunately, she’s got a robot brother, Digory, and a seriously dangerous but fast vehicle.  Does she win the race?  Will she find out more clues from her past?  Can she and Dig recover some stolen artifacts and (mostly) return them to a safe home?

Loads of fun.  I can’t wait for the next one.

Clem Hetherington and the Ironwood Race by Jen Breach and Douglas Holgate

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War. What is it good for? Again.

Groundwood Logo TextIt seems like days, but I know it was actually weeks ago that I posted about another middle grade book about war—Playing Atari With Saddam Hussein.  This one is a graphic novel, based on Deborah Ellis’s classic, The Breadwinner.

Adapted from the film version directed by Nora Twomey, the story is a familiar one.  Power struggles, militarized conflict, outcomes no one particularly likes – in this case, only the strict Taliban and their thugs like the idea of limiting women so much.  People who just want to live their daily lives struggle while those in power find ways to exploit their standing.  No surprise there.

Parvana has to disguise herself as a boy in order to be able to provide for her family, and while the disguise allows her some freedoms she doesn’t have otherwise, it also brings complications – fear of bullies with guns, for one thing.  With her father jailed for having forbidden books, her life and that of the rest of her family is trapped in survival mode.

Having this in graphic novel form will appeal to a lot of young readers, especially those who are interested in social justice issues.  It’s a view into another world, and that’s an especially good thing for those of us with the advantages of technology and development and education and relatively safe daily lives.

The Breadwinner: a graphic novel – based on the book by Deborah Ellis and adapted from the film by Nora Twomey

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