Middle Grade Fiction Notables | August 2015

Check out our list of middle grade notable fiction new releases and then go to the bottom of this post to find an attachment file of importable ISBN numbers.



The Education of Ivy Blake by Ellen Airgood (available in OverDrive) – Grades 4-6

It seems like 11-year-old Ivy Blake’s dreams are coming true when she is reunited with her mother, but she quickly realizes that this is not the happy ending she’s been yearning for. Ivy was first introduced as Prairie’s best friend in Prairie Evers (2012), but readers don’t need to have read that volume to enjoy this installment of Ivy’s story. When Ivy’s mother comes to collect her from the Evers’ home, where she’s been staying, Ivy has high hopes. But soon her mother’s bad judgment and temper return in full force, and Ivy is scared, lonely, and ashamed to tell the Evers family what’s happening. Still, Ivy keeps a level head as she forges onward, finding new friends and a means of self-expression by cultivating a newfound love of moviemaking. In the end, Ivy will have to choose between the life her mother wants for her and the life she is building for herself. Because this contemplative tale is character- rather than plot-driven and doesn’t shy away from Ivy’s emotional turmoil, it can feel somewhat dispiriting in places. Persistent readers, though, will become invested in Ivy and ultimately find her story quietly satisfying. An uplifting coming-of-age story that foregrounds both the loss and the luster involved in creating an identity all one’s own. (Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2015)

Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin- Grades 4-7

Ruby Danes is tired of being on the outside. She has never had a close friend, and with middle school starting in a few months, she doesn’t know how to handle things. But now there is Margalit, who seems to accept her without question and who is like her other half. But what would Margalit think if she knew Ruby’s secret about her mother, who is inside the prison walls? And what if Ruby’s mother is responsible for Margalit’s brother’s death? No friendship can survive that, can it? Beautifully written from 11-year-old Ruby’s perspective, this lyrical novel explores multiple aspects of the effects of incarceration on family—guilt, fear, anger, loneliness, and heavy responsibility. Baskin’s plot structure, which flows from the present to periodic flashbacks, keeps the story from being unbearably dark. Margalit may be too good to be true, but she is just what the doctor ordered for Ruby’s healing. -Moore, Melissa (Reviewed 05-15-2015) (Booklist, vol 111, number 18, p56)

Saving Crazy by Karen Hood-Caddy- Grades 4-6

Returning home from spending time with her grandfather, Robin cannot wait to jump in the lake to cool down during the hottest summer she can remember. Instead she and her friend Zo-Zo find the lake in the midst of an algae bloom and covered in a thick, green slime. During a meeting of the neighbors about the lake, she meets McCoy, a new boy who begins to drive a wedge between Robin and Zo-Zo. Meanwhile, Robin’s grandmother reconnects with an old friend who works on a whale-watching ship, and he invites the two girls to join the next voyage. While Zo-Zo is excited about the mission and chance to see whales up close, Robin is torn between her gift for saving animals and fear that being away from McCoy will open the door for him to move on to someone else. Hood-Caddy seamlessly integrates information about ecology and animal conservation into the plot, which will both enlighten and entertain middle-grade readers. Recommend to budding eco-warriors or as a supplemental read for a marine biology class. -Roush, Suanne (Reviewed 05-01-2015) (Booklist, vol 111, number 17, p100)

How to Speak Dolphin by Ginny Rorby- Grades 4-6

Lily has little time for friends or activities since her life seems to revolve around her half-brother, Adam, who has autism. Life has not been easy. Her stepfather, Don, doesn’t acknowledge that Adam needs to attend a special school, and Lily has yet to get over the grief of losing her mother in a car accident two years ago. When Don, an oncologist, receives a call about assisting with a young dolphin who has cancer, he eagerly agrees to help. Adam has a strong attachment to dolphins, and Don thinks this will be the panacea to cure all his troubles. Adam quickly bonds with the dolphin Nori, but Lily begins to suspect that life in captivity in a marine mammal park is not the best scenario for Nori. Rorby paints a vivid picture of life with a child with autism and the struggles a family can face. VERDICT This book will raise questions about the ethics of marine life attractions and leave readers rooting for Lily, an appealing narrator. -Beth Cuddy (Reviewed March 1, 2015) (School Library Journal, vol 61, issue 3, p143)




Petlandia by Peter Hannan- Grades 2-4

The Finkleblurts have a new pet pup, Grub, and their cat, Madame Wigglesworth, is not amused. As irritated as Madame Wigglesworth is with Grub, she “hates” the humans “ten times more.” She plots revenge and unites the family’s pets establishing a new country: Petlandia. She writes a Petlandia Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and a national anthem. She would like to serve as queen, but establishes the country as a democracy where the pets will vote for their new president. Madame Wigglesworth can’t believe it when Grub is voted to be Petlandia’s president. Now Madame Wigglesworth has a bigger problem: How can she become the next Petlandia president? Cat and dog owners will see their own pets in the stereotypical personalities of Grub and Wigglesworth. The story is silly, goofy, and altogether a riot, but there are genuine lessons to be learned about getting along with others and the qualities of an excellent leader embedded amid the wackadoodle plot. The story might even prompt a discussion about bullying behavior. VERDICT Told with classic cartoon, fast-paced silliness and drawings, this title is bound to capture the attention of even the most reluctant reader. -Helen Foster James (Reviewed March 1, 2015) (School Library Journal, vol 61, issue 3, p116)

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones (available in OverDrive) – Grades 4-6

/* Starred Review */ Moving to the farm her family inherited from Great-Uncle Jim, Sophie Brown, 12, discovers a flyer from a local poultry purveyor promoting its “unusual chickens” and quickly discovers it’s not false advertising. Sophie’s story unfolds through her correspondence with the poultry people and her letters to Great-Uncle Jim and her beloved abuelita (both deceased but very much alive to Sophie). While Dad’s white, brown-skinned, U.S.-born Sophie and her freelance-writer mother are frequently assumed to be migrant farmworkers, legal or otherwise, but they take it in stride. (The town of Gravenstein’s fairly diverse, but some residents need remedial multicultural education) The chickens Sophie acquires are plenty diverse themselves, from Henrietta, who lays glass eggs, to Chameleon, with her nifty gift for turning invisible when predators are near. The chickens’ superpowers aren’t a secret. Most who are in the know are trustworthy with one big exception: a wannabe poultry thief. Genuinely informative, entertaining chicken-raising tips are offered (and may prompt readers to lobby parents for chickens of their own). Matching the text in tone and substance, the illustrations honor the tale’s serious chicken-raising elements, portraying breeds in anatomically correct detail, while perfectly capturing that intense, slightly demented demeanor chickens, unusual and otherwise, are known for. A delightful protagonist, interesting fowl of various breeds and a cast of appealing second-string characters make this a top pick for young readers, poultry fanciers or not. (Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2015)

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord- Grades 4-6

/* Starred Review */ It is a summer of change for 12-year-old Lily, who lives with her grandparents above their general store in rural Maine. Having grown apart from her boy-obsessed best friend and coping with her dog’s increasing blindness, Lily finds a kindred spirit in Salma, whose migrant family works in the local blueberry fields. One constant in Lily’s life is her longing for her absent mother, whose personality and fate Lord reveals measuredly. Salma, too, is grieving, having lost her own dog and many friends due to her family’s frequent moves. Lord links images beautifully: Lily shows Salma how the fluted top of a blueberry resembles a star, and Salma confides that she is comforted knowing that the stars overhead are the same ones shining on her loved ones far away. Salma’s artistic creativity and gumption awaken Lily to the power of imagination, the importance of embracing change and knowing when to let go of the past, and the rewards of venturing beyond one’s comfort zone. (Publishers Weekly, vol 262, issue 12, p)

Firefly Hollow by Alison McGhee- Grades 3-5

/* Starred Review */ Firefly and Cricket, two tiny animals with big dreams, challenge the status quo by befriending a miniature giant (a boy named Peter) and by pursuing their destinies with the help of an old river vole. Firefly wants to fly to outer space someday, and Cricket aspires to be “the cricket version of Yogi Berra.” Although they both have been warned repeatedly by the cricket and firefly nations about the hazards of human beings, they are intrigued by Peter’s way of life. After all, he and another miniature giant used to play catch, and others of Peter’s tribe have reached the moon. Vole, the sole, determined survivor of his river people, has spent much of his riverbank life teaching himself to sail. As the story unfolds, readers of all ages will be captivated by a third-person voice, both soothing and gently humorous, that delves deeply and sensitively into such subjects as friendship, death, cultural conflict, dreams, and the adjustments that must be made on our lives’ journeys. As with the beloved classic Charlotte’s Web, bits of natural history are woven into a plot in which a human child’s emotional growth is secondary to a whimsical tale of interspecies friendships. Illustrations reminiscent of The Wind in the Willows further enhance a wise and lovely reading adventure. This sweet and memorable tale deserves both a sequel and a film version. (Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2015)




Gabby Duran and the Unsittables by Elise Allen- Grades 3-6

Gabby Duran is a sixth-grade super sitter. Kids love her and parents worship her, so much so that she takes a private plane to out-of-state sitting jobs and has to recruit her extra-organized little sister Carmen to manage her bookings and travel schedule. But when Gabby’s skills attract the attention of some . . . otherworldly clients, will her mixture of enthusiasm and empathy enable her to survive a session with a uniquely abled, and uniquely terrifying, eight-year-old? Gabby and her friends are all well-rounded, lively characters who are fun to get to know. Especially gratifying is Gabby’s account of learning to understand Carmen, who appears to have some non-neurotypical attributes, and how that informs her babysitting philosophy. Overall, Allen and Conners’ goofy inventions, wild plot, and peppy dialogue keep things light. Readers who have previously visited Dan Greenburg’s Weird Planet or Ray O ’Ryan’s Galaxy Zack series, as well as fans of Ursula Vernon’s Dragonbreath series will be delighted by the blend of real-world drama and far-out sci-fi humor in this briskly plotted crowd-pleaser. -Willey, Paula (Reviewed 05-01-2015) (Booklist, vol 111, number 17, p100)

The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson- Grades 4-7

The only boy in a sea of eight sisters, Colm has developed a knack for hiding, sneaking, and escaping. He is also a deft pickpocket. His honest father is horrified when he learns of his thieving, but before he can turn Colm in, a mysterious adventurer intervenes. Finn Argos, a self-professed rogue, observes Colm’s pilfering talents and bargains with the magistrate to apprentice him to a guild of dungeoneers. Colm is whisked away to Thwodin Castle, where he is paired up with other trainees: a warrior who faints at the sight of her own blood, a mageling who stutters his spells, and a druid who can speak to animals but is afraid of most. As Colm’s team trains to conquer treasure-filled dungeons (and the monsters that guard them), others scheme to sabotage the guild. Anderson mines fantasy convention for its best bits and presents them with humor and depth. Beneath the lighthearted cleverness is a thoughtful examination of loyalty, betrayal, and fairness, bolstered by lovable characters and unpredictable plotting. -Hutley, Krista (Reviewed 05-15-2015) (Booklist, vol 111, number 18, p65)

Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel by Megan Morrison- Grades 4-8

Those expecting a Disneyesque Rapunzel in Morrison’s debut, first in the Tyme series, will be pleasantly surprised by the novel’s emotional depth and inventiveness. Lulled into forgetting her past—including several princely attempts to free her—Rapunzel escapes the tower where she’s been kept complacent and happy to save the woman she knows as Witch from supposed murderous fairies. With Jack (of beanstalk fame) by her side, and a grumpy fairy watching from the woods, Rapunzel is bidden to travel through the lands of Tyme. As she passes through its color-coded territories, Rapunzel discovers the truth about herself, the family she never knew existed, and the reason for Jack’s helpfulness. Morrison turns the idea of a naive, sheltered princess on its head, and when Witch’s cruel actions are revealed, Rapunzel’s brave decision offers a final act of kindness that adds to the story’s already potent mythology and symbolism. The slow, circular dialogue at the beginning of the novel gives way to a full-bodied world worth revisiting. (Publishers Weekly, vol 262, issue 09, p)

Diary of a Mad Brownie by Bruce Coville (available on OverDrive) – Grades 3-5

/* Starred Review */ Bound by a family curse, Angus the brownie must leave Scotland for America to serve young Alex Carhart, the great-great-great-niece of his recently deceased mistress. After finagling his transatlantic voyage from a selkie, he secretly moves into the Carhart household and begins his dual task of bringing order while occasionally making mischief. Alex discovers his presence and tempers flare on both sides. But when a larger problem threatens the family, they join forces and begin to appreciate each other, before Angus leads Alex, her sister, her brother, and two older companions into the Enchanted Realm in an attempt to end the curse for good. It’s not easy to merge such disparate elements as traditional Scottish lore and modern American life, but Coville brings it off with wit, style, and respect. The story moves quickly, energized by Angus’ engaging voice and the use of shifting perspectives. Largely made up of the brownie’s diary entries, the narrative also includes passages from Alex’s journal as well as letters, text messages, news articles, poems, and other documents. Kidby’s madcap jacket art and many black-and-white illustrations will draw young readers to the book. The first volume of the Enchanted Files series is smart, amusing, and a lot of fun. -Phelan, Carolyn (Reviewed 05-01-2015) (Booklist, vol 111, number 17, p94)






The Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz- Grades 3-7

Where do defeated villains go? To the Isle of the Lost, a tiny, magic-less island off the coast of the kingdom of Auradon, where the heroes live, ruled by King Beast and Queen Belle. On the island, the children learn “Advanced Evil Schemes” and “Vanities” to better live up to their wicked parents’ reputations. For Mal, daughter of Maleficent, nothing is more important than nastiness. Resentment runs deep among the villains, and a years-old grudge puts Mal at odds with Evie, daughter of Snow White’s Evil Queen. But magic may be waking on the island, and Mal, Evie, and a few others must join forces to find it. Meanwhile, on the mainland, Prince Ben has plans for the children of villains. The concept is a bit odd—this isn’t a fairy-tale retelling; it’s about the actual Disney characters—and this novel acts as a prequel for the upcoming Disney Channel movie, out later this year. But stuffed full of cartoon nostalgia and reluctant friendships—and backed by Disney’s considerable weight—this is sure to find an audience. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: This paves the way for the Disney Channel movie, and both will benefit from the extensive cross-promotion. -Reagan, Maggie (Reviewed 05-15-2015) (Booklist, vol 111, number 18, p67)

Lilliput by Sam Gayton- Grades 4-6

Lily is a three-inch tall child from the country of Lilliput. At three moons old, she was kidnapped by Lemuel Gulliver to be proof of his travels. Desperate for home, she has tried to escape 33 times and failed. After every attempt, she gets stuffed into a sock. On her latest sock stint, however, Finn, the clockmaker’s apprentice, manages to rescue her. In their attempts to find a way to return Lily to Lilliput, Finn’s master, Mr. Plinker, discovers Lily’s existence. Determined to turn Lily and Finn into clock-fixing servants, the clockmaker is hot on their tail. To top it off, Gulliver wants Lily back so he can prove his research. Will Finn and Lily manage to get her back to Lilliput? Will Mr. Plinker catch up with them? The illustrations are detailed and have an eye-catching, three-dimensional quality. Though the plot is simplistic, the old-fashioned storytelling style is well done and brings Lilliput’s world to life. The characters are likable, unique, and engaging. VERDICT Readers who enjoy adventure and visiting new places will want to meet Lily. -Kira Moody (Reviewed August 1, 2015) (School Library Journal, vol 61, issue 8, p84)

The Sign of the Cat by Lynne Jonell- (available as a review book) Grades 3-6

A boy who has been taught to hide his true potential is thrust into extraordinary circumstances when he gains the wrong sort of attention. Eleven-year-old Duncan McKay, who learned to speak the language of cats at an early age, is frustrated by his mother’s insistence that he hold himself back at school and avoid any sort of notoriety. In a moment of weakness, he confides in the famous Earl of Merrick—and ends up shanghaied onto the Earl’s ship as a new crew member. There, Duncan learns that his absent father was notorious traitor Duke Charles and that the ambitious Earl wants to dispose of Duncan. After Duncan goes overboard, he discovers a helpful tiger, a missing princess, and a secret that turns his world upside-down. Jonell (The Secret of Zoom) offers an adventurous, swashbuckling tale, albeit one with a few too many predictable elements and a somewhat convoluted plot. Younger readers will love Duncan’s kitten companion, Fia, and the majestic tiger Brig, but the Earl’s eating habits will appall just about everyone. (Publishers Weekly, vol 262, issue 16, p)

The Nightsiders: The Orphan Army by Jonathan Maberry- Grades 4-7

/* Starred Review */ Ever since the alien invasion, 11-year-old Milo has suffered from nightmares, but when a voice in his dreams tells him the world needs a hero, he has a hard time believing it could be him. It’s been six years since the Dissosterin, a race of giant, bug like creatures, invaded Earth, knocking out communications, destroying cities and decimating the human race. The surviving population has banded together into small nomadic groups, intent on surviving and on finding a way to strike back at the evil extraterrestrial swarm. During a routine scavenging trip, Milo and his friends Shark, Lizabeth and Barnaby stumble upon the Nightsiders, magical creatures who are staging their own battle against the interlopers. This riveting, sci-fi tale of the Earth’s last stand is enhanced by the addition of fantastical elements, which fall into place seamlessly. A fast-paced and explosive plot is enriched by strong characters, amusing dialogue and impossible odds. Maberry’s prowess in fiction as well as comic books is evident in his well-crafted story, which balances over-the-top battle scenes with the quiet moments between characters that give substance to what could be a heartless thriller. This first book in an explosive new series is the perfect mix of science fiction and magic. (Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2015)

Shadows of Sherwood: A Robyn Hoodlum Adventure by Kekla Magoon- Grades 4-7

Award-winning Magoon’s futuristic alternate-universe reboot of Robin Hood marks the first title in a promising new series, Robyn Hoodlum. Biracial Robyn Hood is on the lam after her parents disappear from their well-to-do home in Nott City on the Night of Shadows, a raid ordered by tyrannical Governor Crown to rid the city of dissidents under the cover of darkness. Following the advice of her parents to head for the woods, she ventures into rough-and-tumble neighboring Sherwood City, banding together with other orphaned misfits who open her eyes to the tough conditions propagated by Crown. With the sheriff in hot pursuit and Robyn leading the cause, they work together to right the government’s wrongs. Magoon’s twist on the classic tale benefits from an engaging cast of characters and an intriguing mythology. Timely check-ins with Sheriff Mallet help with the pacing, which lags a bit in the middle. The episodic quests call to mind the Percy Jackson adventures and will inspire a new generation to connect with Robin Hood’s timeless tale. -Barnes, Jennifer (Reviewed 05-15-2015) (Booklist, vol 111, number 18, p67)

The Fog Diver by Joel Ross (available in OverDrive) – Grades 4-7

Centuries ago, the Fog, a dangerous, thick white cloud, descended onto earth, bringing with it a plague that killed or sickened most of its inhabitants. Those left have either taken to the skies on makeshift rafts with clockwork engines, or settled on the tops of mountains in expensive communities. It’s on a raft that 13-year-old slum kid Chess and his motley crew live, trying to survive on what they can salvage from below the Fog and hiding from the villainous Lord Kodoc. The crew is determined to make it to the glittering city of Port Oro, where they know they’ll find a cure for their benefactor’s fog sickness, but on the way, they will need to dodge peril with only one another to count on. Ross’ clever world building, where Star Wars and Star Trek have mashed up to become the fairy tales of a future steampunk generation, is unique and compelling, and he capably combines heartening emotional growth and absorbing adventure in an engaging read for middle-grade fans of sci-fi and fantasy. -Comfort, Stacey (Reviewed 05-01-2015) (Booklist, vol 111, number 17, p98)

Young-Hee and the Pullocho by Mark James Russell- Grades 5-7

After living abroad for five years, Young-hee returns to Seoul with her mother and her brother, four-year-old Bum. She misses her friends in Toronto, dislikes their dumpy apartment complex, and resents having to look after her pesky little brother. After she discovers an alternate world, Young-hee takes Bum into Strange Land, where he is soon abducted by a malicious dokkaebi, a goblin. To rescue him, Young-hee must find a pullocho, a magical ginseng-like root. Her quest leads her through perilous lands where she finds stout companions, fearsome enemies, magic potions, and unexpected transformations. A Canadian journalist living in Korea, Russell sometimes retells a Korean folktale at the end of a chapter, and throughout the novel, elements of folklore become intertwined with the fantasy. A likable, modern heroine, Young-hee deals with challenges that, while sometimes dreamlike, bring about definite changes in her viewpoint. This quick-paced adventure story is one of the few middle-grade novels available here that reflect Korean culture and lore. -Phelan, Carolyn (Reviewed 04-15-2015) (Booklist, vol 111, number 16, p50)

The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden by Emma Trevayne- Grades 5-8

Eleven-year-old Thomas and his father are grave robbers in Victorian England. It’s unpleasant work, but in difficult times, it’s also the only way they can put food on the table. One evening, Thomas opens a grave and discovers a body that’s not resting in a coffin. Much more startling, the body bears an eerie resemblance to Thomas himself. Thus begins a mystery that leads him out of the graveyard and into the parlors of the spiritualists of London, as he embarks on a quest to discover the young boy’s identity. Along the way, Thomas discovers something surprising about his own identity and meets a spiritualist who seems to be channeling directly from the other realm. What is his secret, and what does it have to do with Thomas? Fairies, fakers, and family all play important roles in a story that effortlessly combines magic and reality. Readers of Neil Gaiman’s Holly Black’s Tithe (2002) and The Graveyard Book (2008) will willingly suspend their disbelief. -Lesesne, Teri (Reviewed 05-15-2015) (Booklist, vol 111, number 18, p65)

Hunters of Chaos by Crystal Velasquez- Grades 5-8

At first, it seems like Ana Cetzal’s biggest problem at Temple Academy in New Mexico is that she doesn’t fit in with her affluent, label-obsessed classmates. But after a mysterious ceremony in the basement of the school’s museum, Ana and three other girls, who are all direct descendants of ancient civilizations, discover that they have inherited the incredible power to transform into big cats. Ana, whose ancestors were Mayan, turns into a jaguar, while Doli (Navajo) turns into a puma, Shari (Egyptian) turns into a lion, and Lin (Chinese) turns into a tiger. Together, they are the Wildcats, and they have been tasked with defending the world against demons released by the diabolical Anubis, who arrived at Temple after the fortuitous archaeological discovery nearby. Though the focus on ancient cultures at times seems a bit thin, it’s nonetheless a relatively unique angle for a fantasy adventure, and that, along with some classic boarding-school mean-girl antics, a diverse cast of protagonists, some sensitive discussions of class difference, and cinematic pacing, makes for an entertaining read. -Hunter, Sarah (Reviewed 05-15-2015) (Booklist, vol 111, number 18, p65)




The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War– Grades 6-9

Treasury of eleven stories that were inspired by artifacts connected to World War I, told by different writers, review on Granite Media https://www.granitemedia.org/2015/06/the-great-war/

River Runs Deep by Jennifer Bradbury- Grades 4-7

A tubercular boy is sent to live in a cave that might heal him. Bradbury uses an odd historical fact to jump-start a story about the Underground Railroad. After his father dies from consumption, 12-year-old Elias, suffering from the same disease, is sent from eastern Virginia to live inside Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave. This enormous underground labyrinth, already a tourist attraction in the 1840s, is also a sanitarium. Dr. John Croghan believes “cave vapors” can cure the disease, but he also tries restrictive diets, immobility, and horse-urine baths. Numerous slaves attend the patients and also lead tours of the caves; in their off hours they explore the cave’s unknown edges. Bored and lonely, Elias begins to follow them, discovering that a far cavern actually houses runaway slaves now trapped and running low on supplies due to guards at the entrances. Elias’ family owns slaves, and he’s never questioned slavery’s morality, but in the darkness of Mammoth Cave he begins to change his views. Bradbury’s plot falters a bit at the end, when a posse of men seems more bumbling than harmful, but she will hold readers throughout with a consistent third-person perspective focused through Elias and his gradual character development, not on the glories of the cave. Several pages of back matter give insight into the history of the cave and the real Dr. Croghan, with suggestions for further reading. A solid look at a fascinating historical side note. (Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2015)

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly- Grades 4-7

/* Starred Review */ Well worth waiting for, this sequel to the Newbery Honor Book The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (2009) offers a narrative full of secrets, revelations, and droll humor. In the spring of 1900, 13-year-old Callie, who continues to study science with her beloved, eccentric grandfather, spots a seagull 200 miles inland. Soon a deadly hurricane engulfs Galveston and sends two refugees their way: Callie’s older cousin Aggie, who is traumatized, abrasive, and cagey; and Dr. Pritzker, a veterinarian who offers Callie unexpected opportunities. Meanwhile, her brother Travis enlists her help in caring for a series of unsuitable wild pets without letting their parents know. As the story unfolds, Callie begins to articulate goals for herself and take quiet, practical steps to achieve them. Character development progresses gradually, with Callie lying when it suits her but increasingly taking responsibility for her words and actions. She becomes more painfully aware of both the inequity of her place in the family and women’s roles in society. The novel offers many pleasures, from its well-realized setting to its vividly portrayed characters, but the most irresistible is Callie’s wry, observant narration. Readers will flock to this sequel for the pleasure of revisiting this beloved character and her world. -Phelan, Carolyn (Reviewed 04-15-2015) (Booklist, vol 111, number 16, p59)

The Year We Sailed the Sun by Theresa Nelson- Grades 5-8

/* Starred Review */ Julia’s grandmother was barely in the ground when the nuns arrived, one of them “with a face like George Washington” and the other “like a pigeon with spectacles.” In Kerry Patch, the crowded St. Louis slum bursting with Irish immigrants, 11-year-old Julia was now just one more orphan among many. Along with her older sister, Mary, Julia is taken to the House of Mercy orphanage, which promises a life choked with sacrifice and shame. But Julia will not submit quietly: escaping the orphanage and hopping trolley cars becomes her specialty. Through Julia’s misadventures, Nelson introduces the frightening world of gang warfare and corruption that marked this early twentieth-century neighborhood. Julia’s fierce and funny voice keeps readers engaged, whether she is smothering her laughter at an embarrassed opera singer or marching through a blizzard to give comfort to a friend. Grounded in plenty of research and packed with historical details, Julia’s misadventures are based on the real life story of Nelson’s mother-in-law, who lived in Kerry Patch and left for good in 1912. Middle-grade readers who enjoyed Kirby Larson’s Hattie Big Sky (2006) or Jennifer L. Holm’s The Trouble with May Amelia (2011) will adore this historical novel featuring a smart and spirited heroine. -Colson, Diane (Reviewed 04-15-2015) (Booklist, vol 111, number 16, p60)

Close to the Wind by Jon Walter- Grades 4-6

Walter’s debut novel is a profile of innocence maintained in the face of war. Malik and his grandfather, Papa, are running from soldiers to a port, where they hope to board a ship to safety. Malik believes they will meet his mother there, although Papa is suspiciously (at least to readers) circumspect. To keep him distracted, Papa teaches Malik a trick to make small items disappear; this new sleight-of-hand talent will come in very handy later on. When former business associates and fellow refugees steal a diamond from Papa meant to fund passage to and start-up costs in a new country, escape seems impossible. The tension is palpable, and if the lack of details about place and time may frustrate some, it also serves to keep the focus on character types. The threat posed by the soldiers is not explicit but ominous all the same. Unethical opportunists arouse a sense of injustice. Papa, a wheeler-dealer, gets Malik on the boat, but Malik is crushed to learn that his mother is not onboard. It all seems for naught until a sympathetic foster parent aids Malik’s search for his family. The roller-coaster ride of experiences and emotions, taking Malik and readers from fear, despair, loss, and grief to love and hope, is accurately drawn. A good choice for sensitive children not ready for more pointed accounts. (Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2015)

Cast Off: The Strange Adventures of Petra De Winter and Bram Broen by Eve Yohalem- Grades 5-8

Becoming a stowaway isn’t Petra DeWinter’s first choice for escaping her father’s abuse, but hiding on a ship bound for the Dutch East Indies seems to be her only option. The problem is that it’s 1663, she is 12, and she is a girl. If discovered, she could be thrown overboard to either drown or be shark food, or she could be sent home as soon as the ship makes land. When Bram Broen, a mestizo boy aboard the ship, stumbles upon Petra, she agrees to help him with his chores in exchange for keeping her presence a secret. Things go well for both until tensions aboard the ship reach fever pitch and the lives of crew members are at stake. The tweens are forced to make tough decisions about loyalty, friendship, and survival. Pirates, illness, mutiny, and storms on the high seas are the backdrop of an adventure that will have readers alternately breathless and cheering. Perfect for those who loved The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (1990). -Fredriksen, Jeanne (Reviewed 04-15-2015) (Booklist, vol 111, number 16, p59)


Fiction Notables ISBN Numbers (Text file for uploading to vendor websites)

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6 thoughts on “Middle Grade Fiction Notables | August 2015”

  1. Several of these books are on our wish list, as well as my own daughter’s wishlists. How to Speak Dolphin is next on my list to read!

  2. Thanks for this list. It was very helpful in choosing books from the book fair that just ended for the library!

    How to Speak Dolphin has been a very popular book at Rosecrest since we got it for our library last spring.

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