I've been reading a lot of middle grade fiction since returning from ALA. I picked up a variety of middle grade galleys, and my goal has been to read them before I give them away as prizes during an upcoming lock-in (more on that in August, I promise). I'd say I'm making good progress so far, especially considering how many of these titles I've been adding to my mock Newbery list. Take a look:
Stead, Rebecca. Liar & Spy. Wendy Lamb Books. Aug. 2012. p. 208.
Georges and his family have just moved from his childhood home into an apartment, and the fact that the move has kept him in the same neighborhood of Brooklyn where he's always lived doesn't make it any easier. Georges feels picked on at school, but in his hours at home he befriends Safer, a boy his age who lives upstairs and who has undertaken a spy mission. As Georges gets involved in Safer's increasingly risky surveillance scheme, he starts to adjust to his new normal and learn what it takes to stick up for himself--with bullies, with classmates, with friends, and with his family. This wonderful story is equal parts funny, suspenseful, and heartfelt, and it is a superb coming-of-age tale that will appeal to both male and female middle grade readers.
Bauer, Joan. Almost Home. Viking. Sept. 2012. p. 272.
Sugar is really enjoying her English class at school; her teacher, Mr. Bennett, is encouraging her to write, and her poetry has started helping her work through her less-than-perfect home situation. When she and her mother are evicted from their house, however, Sugar has to switch schools; the homeless shelter is too far from where she started the year. Things get much worse for Sugar before there is any hope on the horizon: after moving to Chicago and not getting a job she was counting on, Sugar's mother has a mental breakdown, leaving Sugar at the mercy of Social Services in this new city. As Sugar meets people who have her best interests at heart, her poetry takes on a whole new, strong voice. Sugar is a beautifully developed character, and her thoughts and poems had me absolutely spellbound. Readers who enjoy tales of triumph over hardship (think Love, Aubrey or Wonder) will surely enjoy this magnificent novel, which I'm pegging for Newbery consideration.
Oliver, Lauren. The Spindlers. illus. by Iacopo Bruno. Harper. Sept. 2012. p. 246.
Liza's younger brother Patrick is acting strangely, and Liza knows what that means: the spindlers have stolen his soul. Her beloved babysitter, who first told Liza and Patrick about the spindlers, is away at college, so Liza must go "below" on her own in order to save Patrick. Along the way she encounters a number of fanciful creatures and threatening situations, all culminating with the difficult tests set in front of her by the spindler queen. This middle grade fantasy novel is full of adventure and themes of loyalty, and it has a decidedly Alice feel to it--in a good way.
L'Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel. illus. by Hope Larson. Farrar Strous Giroux. Oct. 2012. p. 392.
"It was a dark and stormy night." To a children's librarian, these opening words are iconic. A Wrinkle in Time has long been a classic, and with reason: it is a suspenseful, compelling story about fighting for those you love as well as for yourself, and it includes some serious science without ever sounding dumbed down (L'Engle is famous for taking kids and their powers of understanding seriously). This graphic novel version of the classic Newbery winner captures all that is wonderful about the original while adding in beautiful, sometimes playful and sometimes ominous illustrations. This graphic edition will be well-loved by fans of L'Engle's Time Quintet, and it will help introduce Meg and Charles-Wallace Murray and Calvin O'Keefe to a variety of new readers.
Lin, Grace. Starry River of the Sky. illus. by the author. Little, Brown and Company. Oct. 2012. p. 294.
Rendi has stowed away in a wine merchant's cart, but when he is discovered, he is forced to become the chore boy at the Inn of Clear Sky. He hates his situation until a mysterious woman comes to stay at the inn: Madame Chang, who tells beautiful stories. With the help of Madame Chang's folk tales and the kindness of his new living companions, Rendi starts to comprehend his own story--as well as his own role in it. With the help of beautiful illustrations, Lin creates a lovely narrative populated with short and wonderful folk stories. This novel is about discovering who you are deep down, and it also serves as a marvelous look into traditional Chinese storytelling culture. Perfect for middle grade readers who want to be transported to a new, yet not too fantastical, place when they read.
All books reviewed were advanced reader copies from the publishers; the final print versions may be different than the review copies.