Tag Archives: middle grade

Graphics, comics, series for kids

knifes edgeI love learning that something new from a favorite author has come out without me noticing, because that means I can get it right away, and I don’t have to wait weeks or months for it.  Knife’s Edge was my bonus this week, and it’s a nice follow-up to Compass South.  Track them both down if you don’t know this series.

When you’ve got a super-reader on your hands, it can be hard to constantly come up with new things for them.  Enter the series.  Whether you’re looking at early chapter books like Magic Treehouse or something for older kids like the Wimpy Kid, multiple books with the same characters can be a lifesaver.  Some parents and teachers still resist graphic novels/comics, because they aren’t seen as “real” reading.  Well, if a kid’s reading anything these days, I don’t care what it is.  I just want them reading more.

After finishing Knife’s Edge, I got to thinking about how many fun series there are for kids who like more visual reading, giving me an excuse to make a collage.  Yay, graphics!

Knife’s Edge by Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock

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Bucket lists and burdens

trail meikaMore than one book for kids and teens has taken a bucket list and spun a story.  Sometimes, as in The Trail, a character is finishing a list they’ve started with someone else, someone who is no longer around to finish it with them.  The dramatic results are enough to make you wonder if bucket lists are such a great idea.

Toby is working through the final thing on a list, to hike part of the Appalachian Trail.  If you think it’s a spectacularly bad idea for a 12 year old to do this on his own without telling anyone he’s doing it – well, you’re right.  He’s carrying a lot of sadness and anger with him, but fortunately, he’s got some money, a little experience, a few smarts, and some people on the trails who will help him, too.

Figuring out where he’s going from one moment to the next is less about using a compass and more about who he is and who he’s going to become, but for kids who liked Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, this might be a nice follow-up.

The Trail by Meika Hashimoto

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A grim beginning, some art, some angels, a car chase or two…

 

theroadtoeveraftercover2Sometimes I don’t know why I pick books up.  Maybe I saw something about it online?  Maybe a co-worker added it my stack thinking I’d like it?  Maybe someone, somewhere mentioned it?  Maybe I liked the cover?

Sometimes books just call out to you, I guess.  The cover reminds me a bit of Moon Over Manifest, an excellent book by Clare Vanderpool which won the Newbery some years ago, although The Road to Ever After has a boy facing away and headed down a road with a dog, while Moon has a girl coming towards you on a train track.  It doesn’t suggest a grim dystopian beginning, the magic of a young artist, or anything resembling a walk with Death, but it drew me in, so let’s see where it goes, right?

It’s a quirky kind of a book, but a wonderful one.  Davy David, the unacknowledged angel artist of brooms and twigs, is on his own in a grim sort of town with some unpleasant and unkind adults.  The library, his sanctuary, is going to be closed, and he’s at loose ends until Miss Flint announces that she needs to drive him somewhere – he doesn’t know how to drive – so that she can die.  She might look old and feeble, but she’s smart and has enough of a spark to lead him on a minor crime spree on the way to the shore and her planned death.

It’s not your average middle grade read, but that might just be the reason to pick it up.

The Road to Ever After by Moira Young with illustrations by Hannah George

 

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Bears and libraries and funny little men

snow roseRe-imagining fairy tales can be a tricky business.  Some authors go for the updated, girl power versions.  Some go for the laughs.  Others reach back closer to the originals – more brooding, dark, even scary.

I guess this one does a little of all of that, although it’s more magical and serious than wacky or dark.  Rose and Snow are definitely girls with minds of their own.  Their father’s missing and their mother’s struggling, so they wander off to all corners of a mysterious forest, discovering a library of things and stories, an underground house, a boy who raises mushrooms, and a funny little man who’s really kind of awful, demanding, and mean.

It’s not a race to the end.  Things happen, and characters dip in and out of the story, but I never felt like I was being rushed or that the action was all there just to keep things ripping along.  That might actually be one of the things I liked about it, though, since it gave me time to think about which fairy tales were being woven together instead of being smacked in the face with it.

In the end, Rose and Snow triumph, the funny little man is ruined by his greed, and Father returns.  A happy ending, yes, but it felt more like a deserved happy ending than a story twisted to create one.  Nicely done.

Snow and Rose by Emily Winfield Martin

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Uni-sensors, FARTs, and Mr. X

incredible magicWow. Just wow.

Julian is special, but in so many ways that you don’t really even want to label them individually, because it might just make the greatness of who he is a little less.  His older sister Pookie is an angry teenage drama queen.  His moms have issues of their own.  And then there’s Mr. X, a neighbor who’s lost his wife and turns out to be special and mysterious in his own ways.

Julian is in the middle of all of them and on the outside all at once.  He loves science, space, and astronomers.  He wants to get a dog and name it Sirius after the Dog Star.  He wants to help his sister, his moms, and Mr. X, but he goes about it in ways that might be unexpected, funny, or slightly dangerous.

There’s a lot to like about this book—Julian’s funny and somewhat combative conversations with Mr. X, his “Facts and Random Thoughts,” also known as FARTS, Pookie’s fascination with Matt Damon and her biological father, the whole crazy family they are…

Just wow.

The Incredible Magic of Being by Katherine Erskine

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Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know

war i wonAda is finally in a safe place, after a whole lot of limbo – the state of uncertainty not the dance – in The War that Saved My Life.  It’s still World War II and she’s still in the countryside outside London, but now she’s got a horse, a guardian, and a safe place to live with her brother.

The war brings all kinds of confusing new things, but then, that’s nothing surprising for Ada.  So much is still new, since her mother had basically trapped her in their apartment in London for years before she escaped when children were sent to the countryside because of the bombing.

It’s hard for Ada, but over time, she comes to see how many of those around her struggle, too.  In her own awkward and uncertain way, she tries to help.  Sometimes it works; sometimes it’s harder.  She still struggles with fear and anger and not feeling safe.  Has she finally turned a corner at the end?  Maybe.  We hope so.

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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Secrets and family and love

Pashminacover

Priyanka, like many children of immigrants, lives between two worlds – one Indian, one American.  When she finds a pashmina with seemingly magical powers, she can travel to India, into other possible lives, and maybe even learn about the missing pieces of her past.

What’s fun about this book is the play between the black and white pages and those in color, the linked stories, all of the small ways we see Privanka live with and apart from others, the way her life connects to so many others.  And really, that could be all of us in one way or another, right?

Perfect.

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

 

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So many stories, so many mysteries–yippee!

ghosts ofIt’s almost always a wonderful thing to meet up with favorite characters again.  In this case, we’re back at Greenglass House at the beginning of another holiday season with Milo and his family, and eventually, with his ghost friend, Meddy, and some other folks, too.

Where to start on all the cool things in this book?  Milo and Meddy are soon back to their excellent role-playing game, because a mysterious group of characters (from a mysterious place) show up just as some old friends and thieves arrive, so things start happening.  There are smugglers and people pretending to be something they aren’t, some strange injuries and missing items, and just a whole lot of coffee and hot chocolate drinking.

There are a lot of characters and stories to unravel, and at times, I found it hard to keep everyone straight, but that didn’t really dim my enjoyment of the book as much as slow me down a little to figure things out.  It’s 452 pages long in print form, so you have plenty of time to figure out the relationships, the lies, and eventually, the truth.

Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford

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Stars and rainbows and gun violence

stars beneathI was at work  when I learned about the latest mass shooting.  We heard again that “this kind of thing doesn’t happen around here.”  Clearly, it does happen around here, more and more often.  And it’s been happening around here for a while.  We’re not really even surprised by it.

I’d been reading The Stars Beneath Our Feet for a few days, and while it’s set in New York — which might seem far away to anyone knowing where I live – it’s not far away at all.  I recognize these kids, having worked in a program similar to the one described in the book, just out here in good ol’ Iowa.  They’d lost family members to gun violence and drugs, and some lived every day with traumatic pain, not seeing any way to get out of it all.  Some of my favorite kids could be Lolly and Vega and Big Rose.

I wish they had all known Lolly and this book.  It might have given us one more way to talk about the really awful choices in front of them, things adults all want them to avoid and resist, but which, like Harp and Gully, just kept landing in the middle of the sidewalk in front of them, unavoidable.  My own Lolly, much loved by his family and friends, didn’t make the same choices and will most likely be incarcerated for many years, missing his kids’ birthdays and everything else.  His decisions will ripple out to affect even more people.  The pain just spreads.

After finishing the book, it struck me that these tragedies — mass shootings or gun violence in our neighborhoods – they’re not so far away from any of us, whether we’re in the suburbs or the city or a small town.  We act like one thing is different from another, but maybe it isn’t.  And as a country, we don’t do anything about either, no matter how many lives are ruined and wasted on it all.

This should probably have filled me with sadness and hopelessness, but it didn’t.  Lolly’s story, you see, is like a rainbow of Legos reaching out to us across that pain.  (I like the image, although I know it’s a little silly on paper.)  It needs to be read by all kids, whether they sound and look like Lolly or not.  Kids in small town and urban Iowa may look or sound different, but they live their own stories with strikingly similar challenges.

Can a book change the world or a life?  It can.  This one just might.

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

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Steampunk with Mad King Ludwig… where have you been all my life?

castle in the stars

Parents are always doing weird stuff, aren’t they?  Like flying their balloons up into the atmosphere to try to find some weird holy-grail-like thing called aether.

So you lose one parent.  Time passes.  Your dad tries to keep you from tagging along on his trip to follow up the mystery of your mom’s final trip log.  Um, no.  You must jump on that train and head for Bavaria, meet up with Mad King Ludwig in one of his awesome castles, help your dad build a steampunky ship to search for more aether, and then, oh, sure, also reveal a traitor to the king.  And this is just book one.  Book two had better get here fast.

Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869, book one by Alex Alice

 

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