The Puppets of Spellhorst by Kate DiCamillo
Interest/Level: Fantasy. Recommended for Ages 8-9.
This story begins very realistically with the death of an old sea captain who had an adventurous past, and on a whim purchases a set of 5 puppets including a King, a Boy, a Girl, a Black Wolf, and a White Spotted Owl–the girl puppet in the set reminds him of a woman he once loved. After the sea captain dies, the puppets are given to 2 young sisters who present their own puppet show, sending the puppets on their own adventure. Now the fantasy element of the story begins: the puppets magically but secretly come to life; while the young sisters do not know about this secret life of their puppets, the reader gets a sense of the puppets’ inner thoughts which include the need for adventure (which, as it turns out, is not always a pleasant experience), and true friendship. Reality and imagination combine to create quite a dramatic plot; black and white illustrations help the reader imagine the action.
Remember Us by Jacqueline Woodson
Interest/Level: Historical Fiction. Recommended for Ages 9-11.
This is Sage’s powerful story about her life in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, NY during her summer before 7th grade, when the neighborhood is known as “The Matchbox” because all the houses are built with highly combustible (and cheap) wood; random fires destroy some of these homes. Born Sage Michael Durham, (Michael is her now-deceased father’s name), Sage is the best basketball player on the block…everyone wants her on their team, and she only plays with the boys. When new-comer Freddy moves in, they become fast friends…and shoot hoops almost every day. Then a challenge on the court causes Sage to question her identity. And when the fires come too close, Sage’s dreams of living in an aluminum home become reality…but the house seems too far from her old neighborhood and friends. Sage learns a lot of life lessons during her summer of fire…but mostly she learns how to stay safe with the ones she loves most. I recommend this realistic fiction novel.
Show Me A Sign by Clare Anne LeZotte.
Interest/Level: Historical Fiction. Recommended for Ages 9-11.
Show Me A Sign by Clare Ann LeZotte is quite an intriguing tale that takes place on Martha’s Vineyard which historically has been known to have a high number of residents who were born with a genetic impairment causing deafness; 11-year-old Mary Lambert, the protagonist of this story, is one of these residents. The year is 1805, and settlers have imposed upon the land where the Wampanoag people lived, which causes tensions between the two groups, and so Mary keeps her distance. Recent tragedy leaves Mary feeling responsible, and guilt drives much of her actions in the story. She gets her wake-up call when a visiting Mainlander scientist, trying to get to the root of the island deafness issue, comes the island, but is perceived as imposing on the privacy of the tightly-knit community. When he traps Mary, and almost succeeds with turning her into his human specimen, the plot certainly takes a turn for the worse, and becomes her tale of survival under unimaginable conditions. This exciting story exposes a world that many readers may not be familiar with, and will bring about some interesting discussions.
Big Tree by Brian Sleznick.
Interest/Level: Action Adventure/Science & Nature. Recommended for Ages 9-11.
Did you ever wonder what life would be like if you were a seed? Brian Selznick has written a book called Big Tree, where readers meet two seeds named Lousie and Merwin….whose main mission is now just trying to stay alive in the world, since fate has befallen their Mother Tree. Readers will engage in an exciting adventure that stretches through the past and on into the future, all while the two seeds cling to each other to survive in the present. Absorbing illustrations paired with exciting text make this a very readable story…and readers will follow the seeds through to the end, to see their mission conclude. Highly recommended!
The Science of Being Angry by Nicole Melby.
Interest/Level: Realistic Fiction. Recommended for Ages 9-12.
This book takes place in Monmouth County, NJ. 11-year-old Joey, who is the only girl in a set of triplets, has problems controlling her anger, and she has to face the consequences; the most recent consequence is her family getting evicted from their apartment complex. Joey wants to know WHY she has this anger all the time…but when they begin studying genetics at school she realizes the anger could be from her paternal side; and since her Moms used a sperm donor to conceive the triplets, Joey becomes curious if all of her rage is genetic, and related to the donor. She uses her biology project to research the issue. This project also allows Joey to work closely with her former best friend, Layla…and they are able to reunite in a much closer way. The assignment does not conclude the way Joey thought it would, but she learns much about herself in the process. Kids will relate to themes in this book; it is recommended in PW Reviews 2022 March #4; SLJ Reviews 2022 May; Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2022 #3; Kirkus Reviews 2022 March #2
A Bit of Earth by Karuna Riazi.
Interest/Level: Realistic Fiction. Recommended for Ages 8-12.
This is the story of young adventurous Maria Latif, who has lived in Bangladesh and Pakistan; sadly, she recently lost both parents, and is now an orphan. Maria has no other siblings, and only a distant relative who is unable to care for Maria. Instead, she gets put in the care of old friends of her parents who are faraway both emotionally and physically: she has never met them and they live in a large mysterious house on Long Island, USA. Maria’s only option is to move into her new guardians’ home, where it’s an unknown world: the mood seems tense, there are lots of RULES, and Maria feels lost…until she finds her “bit of earth” behind a locked gate. This earth was, at one point in the past, a bountiful and beautiful garden. Unknown to her guardians, this becomes her Secret Garden where she works with a few new and dedicated almost-friends. Maria is very happy with her project; and while it does not stay secret for long, Maria uses the garden as a tool to eventually form a stronger bond with her care-givers. Lots of cultural details bring Maria’s background to life. The text is written in a combination of verse and prose, which really allows you to relate to the characters.
(…this book is actually based on The Secret Garden which was written by Frances Hodgson Burnett and first published in book form in 1911)
Turtles of the Midnight Moon by Maria Jose Fitzgerald.
Interst/Level: Mystery/Adventure. Recommended for Ages 8-12.
This lively story has elements of adventure, mystery, and suspense…as well as a blending of cultures: specifically New Jersey and Honduras. 12-year-old Abby lives in New Jersey with her family, but she travels to Honduras with her native-Honduran Dad, who received a travel grant studying the effects of deep diving on scuba divers in Honduras. Dad decides Abby (who is a very talented amateur photographer) is responsible enough to accompany him on this trip. However, before they depart, a major hurricane strikes Honduras putting their plans in jeopardy. Nevertheless, they proceed with their trip to the coastal Honduran town of Pataya. During the day while her Dad works, Abby, who speaks Spanish, meets a Honduran girl named Barana; and while at first the two seem to be complete opposites, they find plenty of excitement uncovering an illegal sea turtle poaching scheme. Abby uses her photography skills, while Barana uses her native background and together they help bring the poachers to justice; and they learn that working as a team for the cause of conservation brings positive results. Reading this book made me want to travel to Honduras…I’m sure you will want to be part of this adventure too!!
A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat
Interest/Level: Graphic Novel Biography. Recommended for Ages 10-14.
Dan Santat is a popular writer of fiction…we have his books in a variety of areas in the Children’s Room: JEasy, I CAN READ, JFiction, JGraphic Novel, and now his latest work titled a first time for everything we have shelved in JGraphic Novel Biography. Dan tells his story in picture and prose about his experiences on the class trip/vacation he takes to Europe with a group of other students during the summer after he completes Junior High (Middle School). Nervous at first about such a faraway adventure, and being somewhat invisible at school, Dan ends up meeting students from all over the USA, and he learns a lot about getting along with others…especially GIRLS. The book focuses on just one part of Dan’s life, and at the back of the book he includes real photos from his trip, as well as an author’s note explaining the time period, and how he compiled the book. While the actions in this biography may not be the actual sequence of events as they occurred, the feelings Dan presents are “100% true.”
In the Beautiful Country by Jane Kuo
Interest/Level: Historical Fiction. Recommended for Ages 8-12.
Set in 1980, this story-in-verse is told by 10-year-old Zhang Ai Shi (Anna) as she and her Mom eagerly await their departure from Taiwan as they move to California (“the beautiful country”), where they will meet up with Ai Shi’s Dad who had gone before them to get things ready for their new life. Her parents have bought a fast-food restaurant, which will be their American Dream… until it’s not. Business starts out slowly and never really gets off the ground, and then vandals attack the store. Adding to distress, Ai Shi has trouble fitting in at school…(she has so much to learn about America!)…she really misses her life in her native country. But she learns enough about America to help other newcomers adjust to life in this country. And soon her Mom and Dad try new recipes for the restaurant…. More customers come in for the delicious food. Ai She and her parents realize they were trying too hard with American food…they decide to cook what they know! This is a great story about a realistic issue.
Denis Ever After by Tony Abbott
Interest/Level: Supernatural. Recommended for Ages 10+.
This is such an interesting read that I am sure it will be popular even though (or maybe because) it is about a dead person. Denis and Matt Egan are twins…Denis died 5 years ago at age 7, but his soul cannot rest due to the fact that Matt will not release his memory. So Denis’ soul narrates his ventures as he travels between his “almost heaven” in Port Haven and earth, specifically Buckwood PA. This begins the process of deciphering Denis’ death; and the family “secrets” that are revealed. It is sometimes confusing keeping track of who is narrating the story, but that adds to the curiosity of the book. I recommend this title!
OCDaniel by Wesley King.
Interest/Level: Realistic Fiction. Recommended for Ages 9-14.
Everything is fine (almost) for thirteen-year-old Daniel. While he does have some very unusual habits that keep him awake for hours at night (when he should be sleeping), he is normal (almost). Daniel tries to keep these habits to himself…hiding them from even his family. Maybe no one will notice that even though he is on the football team at his school, he is not so comfortable on the field actually playing: there are too many distractions. On the other hand, when Daniel is team Water Boy he LOVES the precision he uses when arranging the drinking cups for the players. He also has a big crush on Raya, who is Miss Popularity; but then he meets selectively mute Sarah… who figures him out. Sarah enlists Daniel’s help in her own private investigation into her father’s disappearance. Soon, however, his role on the team as backup punter changes and he becomes the actual punter…how will he succeed on the team under pressure? Football Player Daniel and Investigator Daniel have 2 very different roles to play in this novel…and while it is hard to believe that Daniel could possibly hide his OCD from those around him…the author crafts a very readable tale with this book.
Temple Alley Summer by Scahiko Kashiwaba.
Interest/Level: Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Magic. Recommended for Ages 8–13.
This read will immerse the reader in the culture of Japan! There are spooky elements of historical fiction, mystery, fantasy, and even manga with random black-ink illustrations. There’s a story within a story here, and readers are kept on their toes relating the elements of ancient Japan with the activities of the characters in Japan today. The main action focuses on present-day Kazu, a fifth-grader, who sees a ghost-girl in a white kimono leaving his spacious house one night…and then the next day at school SHE IS THERE. Through a school history project Kazu learns that the street where his family lives was, in the past, called Kimyo Temple Alley…but where is the Temple now??…and why is the small Buddha statue missing from the family’s altar??…and what role is played by the black cat named Kiriko?? The reading may seem a bit text-heavy at times, but finishing this book will definitely kindle your imagination!
King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Calendar
Interest/Level: Realistic Fiction. Recommended for Ages 9-14.
This insightful novel focuses on the issue of gender and identity; specifically of the main character King, who realizes he is different from most of the boys around him. Living in Louisiana with his family, King (short for Kingston) has a mostly normal life with lots of friends. However, previous tragedy has taken away the brother he idolized, and left King an only child. King has lots of regrets and questions…he misses his brother and wants someone to tell him how to deal with his loss…so he looks for answers in the Bayou…maybe his brother is now…a dragonfly…well, maybe not, but King knows his brother is close by! Eventually King realizes he must look into his own self for answers. Then, a classmate who had gone missing contacts him, and King realizes he must come out. While King initially finds mixed reactions after he comes out, he does get support from his friends and eventually from his family. This book takes the reader on an absorbing journey that entails grief, racism, domestic abuse, and homophobia.
Galaxy Zack: Monsters In Space by Ray O’Ryan
Interest/Level: Science Fiction. Ages 6-8.
Come along on another adventure for Galaxy Zack…where you’ll find a fun out-of-this-world story that has a very important message. If you don’t already know, Zack lives on the planet Nebulon with his family, and attends Sprocket Academy. One day a student visiting from another planet joins the class…. except Zack thinks this new student, named Al, looks like a MONSTER….why would someone who looks like this be allowed in class, Zack wonders… Meanwhile, Zack’s friend Drake points out that Nebulon is home to all sorts of different-looking creatures, who should not be judged by their looks, but should be treated like an equal. As Zach gets to know Al, he realizes that he was too quick to judge… find out more by reading this chapter book in our fiction section!
Defiant: Growing Up in the Jim Crow South by Wade Hudson.
Interest/Level: Juvenile Biography. Ages 10+.
Wade Hudson begins this story of his life while in solitary confinement after being arrested for “conspiracy to murder”; what follows is the story of his life, including his actions standing up for Black people, and what led him to jail. Wade was born in Mansfield, LA in 1946 and grew up during unsettled times of the 1950’s and 1960’s. One significant factor that impacted all Black people at this time was the introduction of Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the South between 1877 and 1950s. While these laws shape Wade’s life, he knew he deserved more….he knew Black people…and ALL people deserved to be treated equally. This book is his journey to find this equality, as he recounts his participation in various rallies, including the March on Washington; as well as his experiences with MLK, and Malcolm X, and the writings of Langston Hughes among others. His choice to move away from home to attend an all-Black college gives him a more realistic view of his world, and enables him to take further action towards combating racism. The memoir ends with Wade’s jail situation being resolved. Told in a conversational tone, the author presents his experiences (both good and bad) in a genuine and sincere manner.
Frankie & Bug by Gayle Foreman.
Interest/Level: Fiction. Ages 9-13.
Welcome to Venice, CA! That’s where our main character, 10 year-old Bug (short for Beatrice) lives with her Mom and her brother Danny (who is now trying to act mature and cool, and wants to be called Daniel). The trio make a tight-knit family…Bug’s now-deceased father was from El Salvador, and so Danny-now-Daniel has darker skin than Bug. But YAAY it’s summer and Bug is looking for adventure! She has big plans: beach, movies, LOTS OF FUN…but then real life gets in the way. Danny seems to be distancing himself from Bug, and prefers friends his own age. So, with time on her hands, Bug’s Mom forces Bug to befriend Frankie, the nephew of their upstairs neighbor Philip, who is visiting from Ohio for the summer. And with a serial killer on the loose everyone is told to stick together…so they do! Frankie and Bug become a team. They secretly take charge and collect evidence…trying to solve the case. Until Uncle Philip becomes a victim of another type of crime. There is a twist here, however, and the pair solves more than one mystery. Her friendship with Frankie teaches Bug that not everyone is who they appear to be; and she learns to appreciate people who are true to their identities. This personal story becomes a search for Bug’s own answers. It is an emotional and powerful read.
Thanks A Lot Universe by Chad Lucas.
Interest/Level: Fiction. Ages 9-11.
This novel takes place Halifax, Nova Scotia, where some kids make the “IN” crowd and some do not…but mostly everyone finds his or her place. The story revolves around socially-anxious Brian and super-popular Ezra, both in seventh grade. Brian is mostly a loner who lives with his parents and younger brother Ritchie, but since their parents have an unstable marriage, the brothers have been spending time in foster care. Darker-skinned Ezra, whose parents are work-obsessed, is often left on his own. There is lots of Junior High drama in this tale: sports, cliques, boys asking girls out on dates, and boys asking boys out on dates…but this is the story of Brian and Ezra forming a deep friendship and an extra special bond. Family support plays a large role in this story, and while it comes slowly, eventually it helps the boys feel confident about their future…together. This is a realistic and optimistic read!
Red White and Whole by Rajani LaRocca.
Interest/Level: Historical Fiction. Ages 10+.
This book, written in prose, which takes place in the 1980’s, is an emotional journey with 13-year-old Indian American Reha who is dealing with changes in her life. Reha’s Indian parents are not familiar with American teen-age life; they prefer Reha to live according to Indian tradition…but none of Reha’s friends follow the tradition…and so she feels conflicted. Soon enough however, Reha realizes the importance of the tradition and honoring her parents; especially as her Mom’s health declines. We learn the details of her her Mom’s sickness and treatment, as Reha tries to help in the recovery process. As an only child, Reha finds support from her extended family, as well as her close friends. The many references to popular songs from the 80’s make this an intergenerational conversation piece…maybe your parents will be familiar with the songs mentioned in the text…just ask them!
Ben Bee and the Teacher Griefer: Kids Under the Stairs by K.A. Holt
Interest/Level: Fiction. Ages 9-11.
Have you ever needed extra help in school? Well, this is a realistic fiction story about 4 rising seventh graders and their summer school teacher/tutor (Ms. J) who helps them prepare to re-take their State Assessment Test. Each student has a specific learning difference which affected their failing test score. These students are divergent learners, and as they work to overcome their individual differences, they find support and friendship in each other. However, this class is not just about learning, they also gain self-confidence about learning. Each section is narrated by a different student, so we get a variety of opinions throughout the story. We also get details about each student’s family life, and what kind of obstacles they face that may interfere with their learning process. Realizing kids learn best when they are having fun, Ms. J has unusual teaching methods…which include “borrowing” departmental computers so the students can do online gaming. If you want to read more, this is book can be found in the Juvenile Fiction area…ask a librarian if you need help finding it!
The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Barcarcel
Interest/Level: Fiction. Ages 9-12.
You will meet 12-year-old Quijana (pronounced KeeHANnah) and her family: Dad who is from Guatemala, Mom, and younger brother Memito, in this realistic book, which takes place in Texas. All her life Quijana has concentrated on being American…in school she doesn’t hang out with the other Spanish speakers…she cannot even speak Spanish! Quijana actually tries to hide her mixed heritage, and this is fine with her…until there is a chance to visit Guatemala…“what an opportunity” thinks QuiQui’s parents and relatives…however QuiQui is not looking forward to the family vacation and actually is nervous about meeting this part of the family. She concocts an adventurous plan with her friends…it’s her chance to take a risk and be out on her own…but before she has a chance to put the plan into action, real life happens, and she realizes family connections and being true to yourself are more important than denying reality. Lots of Spanish words appear throughout the text. There is an informational section at the back of the book which sheds some light on some of the Guatemalan themes in the story.
Willodeen by Katherine Applegate
Interest/Level: Fantasy Fiction. Ages 8-10.
If you prefer fantasy novels, and love animals and imaginary creatures (cute Hummingbears and odd Screechers to name two), you will love this tale! After reading this book, which includes a dedication from youth activist Greta Thunberg, you will certainly gain an appreciation of the environment (if you don’t have that already). When a fire ravages the rural village of Perchance, and Willodeen’s family perishes, Willodeen is taken in and cared for by 2 village women. Quite a loner, Willodeen becomes focused on saving the remaining population of Hummingbears and Screechers. She knows this can happen through respect of nature but she must convince the townsfolk to be aware of, and respect, the connection that all life has to nature. This mission brings her both enemies and friends, but she learns a great deal about the importance of dedication to a cause.
Sway by Amber Mcree Turner
Interest/Level: Fiction. Ages 9-11.
This adventure is all about finding things…sometimes in the form of physical objects…sometimes using the power of imagination. Ten year old Cass lives with her Father in rural Alabama. Her Mother, who has been away on a “rescue mission” pops in for a visit to say she is venturing out AGAIN. This saddens and angers Cass, who is named after the Castanea dentata tree, and so after Dad buys and refurbishes a used camper van, they begin their own adventure in which they explore several states looking for Cass’ namesake and for SWAY which Dad describes as “belief” or “power”. As Dad takes the identity of super-energized emcee/salesman M.B. McClean selling soaps that contain this SWAY…he magically brings happiness to a host of strangers…because they BELIEVE. The journey becomes Cass’ own search for meaning. As she finds her namesake tree, she finds her SWAY, and she learns that the line between real and Make Believe often is a blurry one. Cass begins to face the changes, and learn the lessons in her life with SWAY and ZING!
Pencilvania by Stephanie Watson
Interest/Level: Fiction. Ages 9-11.
WOW… this book is certainly not boring…although the beginning is sad, it is seems like a bit of an ordinary tale…good thing I kept reading because WOW…Soon enough, the tale takes a turn towards exciting! 12-year-old Zora and her 8-year-old sister Frankie are living happily with their Mom….until they aren’t…and their world changes dramatically as they move in with their Grandmother whom they barely know. Zora is a talented artist, and uses her drawings to remember the life she once knew; soon however, frustration causes her to vent her anger, and scribble out the drawings. She then feels guilt, sadness and rage. At this point the story turns into a fantasy as her anger then activates a force that sends the two girls into another world called Pencilvania–a world where Zora’s scribbles and drawings come to life, and where Zora can draw and erase objects to fit their needs. Most of the characters that live in Pencilvania welcome the sisters…until they meet the scribbles…who are angry with Zora because she scribbled them…specifically, a very powerful Horse shows its anger by kidnapping Frankie. Now Zora’s focus is finding her sister. While Zora searches for Frankie she learns a lot about herself. Fans of fantasy, adventure, and magic will find lots here to keep them reading!
Lost Language by Claudia Mills
Interest/Level: Fiction. Ages 9-11.
This story, written in prose, is about two best friends (Lizzie and Betsy) who do everything together…including their current project: trying to save the lost language of Guernesiais, which is, of course, spoken on the isle of Guernsey (…an island off the coast of France). With this as their mission, they embark upon an adventure in which they learn many new things…including things about each other: Lizzie, for instance, has always been the bossy one of the pair…but now Betsy wonders why and how Lizzie even gets away with that! Soon, family issues that are meant to be private somehow become public…and what was once a strong bond of friendship becomes just the opposite. And while they realize they can remain friends, the friendship will never be the same. Betsy’s Dad helps her see that she is perfect just the way she is; and there are truer friends waiting to be met. This is a great middle school read that deals with realistic issues, and readers will most certainly see themselves in the pages.
The Lost Things Club by J.S. Puller
Interest/Level: Fiction. Ages 9-11.
The theme of Lost Things Club is (unfortunately) realistic in today’s world: a school shooting. This novel shows the power of story and how one family uses story to deal with the effects of the shooting…especially 8 year old TJ, whose Chicago neighborhood classroom the shooter entered, and who experiences selective mutism in the aftermath. Set during summertime after the shooting, 12 year-old Leah is visiting her relatives. She makes it her mission to help TJ…something that even the professional counselor is finding difficult. Leah follows TJ when he sneaks out of the house, and she discovers that he has invented his own world at the local laundromat; he has found his voice at the laundromat, and has a group of friends there. Soon Leah, TJ, and the friends create a world of sock puppets made with lost laundry items; they produce plays and post the videos online. TJ is talking! The series is an internet sensation…TJ, however, really and truly believes the characters are alive and when people regard the series as a “story” TJ retreats back into his own silent world. When he emerges, TJ reveals his thoughts that HE is the reason the student was killed on that horrible day, and it is through the Land Of Lost Things that TJ thinks he will find the lost student… This timely novel is a great book discussion selection.
Many Meanings of Meilan by Andrea Wang
Interest/Level: Fiction. Ages 8-12.
This story has its base on actual historic events as well as fictional tales. After her Grandmother dies, Meilan tells her young cousin a story about their family-owned bakery in Boston’s Chinatown called Golden Phoenix; this causes the adults to argue about profits from the bakery. As a result, Meilan (whose name has several meanings including Beautiful Orchid) and her parents to move to Ohio. Here, seventh-grader Meilan attends a new school where the principal changes her name to Melanie to make it easier to pronounce…Meilan does not like this new name but she does not want to disobey. Meilan adds the name Melanie to her list of other identities she assumes according to her interpretation her situation including: Mist, Haze, Basket, and Blue; each of these identities presents a new burden for Meilan. In addition, when she struggles at her school, imaginary crawling beetles become a metaphor for her confidence.. The real crisis (and real action of the story) occurs when her aged Taiwanese grandfather, who is a VietNam Veteran, disappears and a community-wide search helps unite the family. Pinyin, Mandarin dialogue and Chinese proverbs enhance the story. This has lots going on, and readers will not be bored!
Woke: A young poet’s call to justice by Mahogany Browne
Interest/Level: Poetry. All Ages.
This book of poetry encourages all readers to open their eyes and be WOKE. Black, brown, tan, white, women, men, children, and everyone in between… because YES people ARE in between…and we ALL exist. I read the book aloud so I could hear what the words were saying. Each poem is written with a subject-heading in the lower corner of the page to give the reader a frame of reference. The poems encourage taking action, accounting for one’s actions, taking self-care, taking care of others, demanding justice; the poets urge people to live with awareness. My favorite is Teeth Dance With Silver by Mahogany L Browne.