middle grade novels


I want to alert everyone to the fabulous event coming up ONLINE on May 1 and 2 — it’s free, and features amazing book people — authors and illustrators of picture books, middle grade novels, and young adult novels. It’s just what we need in this time when we’re all staying home, staying safe, but wanting connection, learning, and FUN. The EVERYWHERE BOOK FEST is going to be an amazing two-day celebration of the power and joy of kids’ books. I urge you all to attend, both readers and writers. That includes young readers and aspiring writers, too. (Hi, Amelia!) You need to have a parent or guardian sign up for you, but you are welcome there. I can just about hear you saying, “Cut to the chase, Beth! Where can we sign up? Where can we learn more?” You can learn more, and sign up at the EVERYWHERE BOOK FEST website. (Just click those words. They’re a live hyperlink. It’s internet magic.) I’m looking forward to it. How about you?

Beth’s Faves — Top Middle Grade and YA Books I’ve Read This Year

As promised last week, my fave Middle Grade and Young Adult reads of the past year. (There won’t be as many MG and YA as there were picture books.) As I said last week, please note that not all these books were published this year. I chose from what appealed to me, as well as what I hadn’t yet read, and so those choices spanned many years. I rely solely on the public library system as my source of books, so although many books are available to me, not all are. If your book, or your fave did not make this list, that’s not a reflection on the book or on you! It’s a reflection of the reality of what’s available in terms of both books and reading time. I’d be delighted if you would tell me about your faves in the comments! This list is not in order of preference – it’s in the order I read the books over the course of the year. I won’t share all the titles I read this year, or we’d be here all day, but I do want to give a shout-out to these wonderful books. As with last week’s post, every title is a hyperlink that will lead to more information. I certainly don’t expect you to click on every one and read what you find there (although if you want to, go for it!), but if you’re intrigued by a title and want to learn more, the information awaits you. Some of the links are to the author’s website, some are to reviews, and some are even interviews with the author. Enjoy! The MG List: THE KEY TO EXTRAORDINARY by Natalie Lloyd, 2016 CONNECT THE STARS by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague, 2015 STARS BENEATH OUR FEET by David Barclay Moore, 2017 QUICKSAND POND by Janet Taylor Lisle, 2017 FOX MAGIC by Beverley Brenna, 2017 RIDING CHANCE by Christine Kendall, 2016 THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH by Ali Benjamin, 2015 ONE FOR THE MURPHYS by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, 2013 THE BEST MAN by Richard Peck, 2016 THE GIRL IN THE WELL IS ME by Karen Rivers, 2016 MARY ANNING’S CURIOSITY by Monica Kulling, 2017 BUBBLE by Stewart Foster, 2017 AMINA’S VOICE by Hena Kahn, 2017 HARBOR ME by Jacqueline Woodson, 2018 PROPERTY OF THE REBEL LIBRARIAN by Allison Varnes, 2018 RULES by Cynthia Lord, 2006 JOPLIN, WISHING by Diane Stanley, 2017 THIS WOULD MAKE A GOOD STORY SOMEDAY by Dana Alison Levy, 2017 NATE EXPECTATIONS by Tim Federle, 2018 The YA List: (I don’t read much YA, but what I’ve read this year has been STELLAR!) SAINTS AND MISFITS by S.K. Ali, 2017 HEARTS UNBROKEN by Cynthia Leitich Smith, 2018 Now – what should I read next? Please give me your recommendations in the comments!

HARBOR ME by Jacqueline Woodson — Book Recommendation (plus thoughts on writing, Thanksgiving, and supporting each other)

Today is Thanksgiving in Canada. Usually I would write a post about some of the things I am grateful for, and in a way, this post is about gratitude, for gratitude is important. But it’s a different kind of gratitude than the sort we usually think about on Thanksgiving. As you know, I write for kids (and adults) and I’m working toward being published one day. There are many of us working toward that goal, and sometimes it isn’t easy. Sometimes I’m sure others wonder, as I do, if it’s worth the hard work, if we have anything to say in the increasingly difficult world kids live in these days. Then, in the midst of all that’s going on in the world, in the midst of the work of writing something relevant, an affirmation comes that says, “Yes. Writing for kids is not only worth it, it’s of the utmost importance, especially in these difficult days.” One of those affirmations came for me this week through a book – a middle grade novel that touched me deeply, inspired me, and spurred me on to dig deeper into my writing and work to touch the kids out there who need the kind of books I write. That book was Jacqueline Woodson’s deeply inspiring and challenging Harbor Me. This is a powerful book for our time. It is a necessary book for our time. It is poignant, and moving, and true. If you haven’t already read it, I hope you will. And so, on this Thanksgiving, my gratitude goes to Jacqueline Woodson, and other writers who write deep and true and real books that speak to our world as it is, and as it can be. Title: Harbor Me Author: Jacqueline Woodson Publisher: New York: Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, 2018 Genre: Middle Grade fiction Audience Age: 9 to 12 years Themes/Topics: working past our differences, Dreamers, immigration, race, friendship, empathy Opening Sentence: We think they took my papi. Synopsis: The book begins with the main character remembering – remembering the year when six of her classmates in the classroom for “special” kids embarked on a great experiment, begun by their teacher, but brought to life by the kids themselves. One Friday, Ms. Laverne, the kids’ teacher, tells them to take their books and follow her. She takes them to the old Art Room, and says this is now going to be their room on Friday afternoons, their room to talk and just be – just them, no teacher, no monitoring, no one to keep them from saying whatever they want. As one of the kids says after she leaves, instead of an ART room, it’s now an A.R.T.T. room. A Room To Talk. Gradually, the kids begin sharing deeply of what is happening in their lives. And the main character records it all on a small, handheld voice recorder. Esteban begins the sharing with the words We think they took my papi. His father has been taken, as they eventually learn, to a detention place in Florida, but the suspicion is that he will be sent back to Puerto Rico. The family fears being separated permanently, although they think surely, surely, the children who have been born here, like Esteban, will be safe. It’s a time of fear and uncertainty for him, and for the others in the A.R.T.T. room who come to value him and care for him. One by one, they each share their story. They talk of race, and fear, and family struggles, and of their need to belong. They learn to listen to each other, to bridge the gaps between them, to empathize and to share from their hearts. They learn the importance of being a safe harbor for each other. The main character wonders if she can share her story, if she is brave enough, if she will find that safe harbor if she tells the truth about her family. I found myself yearning for her to be able to share and to feel the power of being supported by the others. As I read this book, I realized how important it is these days that we all seek to be harbors for each other, to be sensitive to those who are in need of harbor, and to recognize when we, ourselves, need to rest and rely on someone else to harbor us for a while. We need to harbor each other, be there for each other, be aware of and aware for each other, be with each other. Be. And yes, we need to write books that will speak to kids: books that will give them harbor in whatever storms they face, books that will uplift and challenge, but also books that will take them away to new worlds for a while, or will make them laugh uproariously for a while. Books are important. Writing is important. All the different kinds of books that kids reach for are important. For Further Enrichment: There is a teacher’s guide at the Penguin Random House website. There are interviews with Jacqueline Woodson, about writing realistic kids’ fiction from an African American perspective as well as other topics, and more teaching information about Harbor Me at the Teaching Books website. Find Jacqueline Woodson’s website here. Availability: Readily available.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood

On Tuesday of this week, the members of the Children’s Book Hub had the treat of hearing Emma interview author Maryrose Wood, who writes both middle grade and YA fiction. In preparation for this interview, I began reading her middle grade series, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, and I have been devouring it. Well, perhaps ‘devouring’ is a questionable choice of verb, since the tagline for the series is   Of especially naughty children it is sometimes said: “They must have been raised by wolves.” The Incorrigible children actually were.

August Augmented Fifths — 1/5 — The Keeper of the Trees by Beverley Brenna

The word spelled a-u-g-u-s-t has at least two meanings. The most obvious is the month we are currently in, the eighth month of the year. August. But “august” can also mean something particularly noteworthy, something esteemed. In music, an augmented fifth is a type of chord that uses a note slightly higher than a normal fifth chord for the top note. It adds some extra excitement to the music, a sense that the music is going somewhere. An augmented fifth is not the sort of chord that one uses to finish a song, it’s a chord that leads to something else. It builds the listener’s anticipation. For the five Fridays of this month of August, I’m going to introduce you to some middle grade novels that to me are particularly noteworthy, that have augmented my life and led me to growth and discovery. I hope they will, among other things, lead you to the library where the anticipation of these “august augmented fifths” can find resolution as you read the book for yourself. So, let’s take a look at the first of five — 1/5 of the augmented fifths of the month:

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