New Release Spotlight: September 10, 2019 (Part II, Middle Grades)

In this second part of this week’s New Release Spotlight, I’m highlighting books for Grades 3-8. I posted the YA list yesterday, and Part III, picture books, will post up on Thursday.

*Stargazing by Jen Wang

Moon is everything Christine isn’t. She’s confident, impulsive, artistic…and though they both grew up in the same Chinese-American suburb, Moon is somehow unlike anyone Christine has ever known.

But after Moon moves in next door, these unlikely friends are soon best friends, sharing their favorite music videos and painting their toenails when Christine’s strict parents aren’t around. Moon even tells Christine her deepest secret: that she has visions, sometimes, of celestial beings who speak to her from the stars. Who reassure her that earth isn’t where she really belongs.

Moon’s visions have an all-too-earthly root, however, and soon Christine’s best friend is in the hospital, fighting for her life. Can Christine be the friend Moon needs, now, when the sky is falling?

PAGES: 208
RECOMMENDED FOR: Grades 3-7
GENRE: graphic novel
THEMES: semi-autobiographical, Chinese Americans, friendship, illness
READALIKES: Ghosts (Telgemeier), Best Friends (Hale)
STARS AND AWARDS: SLJ starred, Publishers Weekly starred, Booklist starred, Kirkus starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Plumbing the depths of Wang’s childhood for inspiration, this rich, heart-filled narrative will resonate with any reader who has ever felt different within their community.” (Publishers Weekly, 27 May 2019)

The Red Zone: An Earthquake Story by Silvia Vecchini and Sualzo

Matteo, Guilia, and Federico have ordinary lives: they spend time with friends, help out their families, go to school, and deal with the many mood swings that come with growing up. Then, in a single night, everything changes. The ground shakes. An earthquake devastates their town and their security. But after everything is gone, life must go on. Anger and fear affect everyone in the community, but each of them must find a way to begin again. In the aftermath, the roots for stronger friendships can be laid amid the rubble. This graphic novel provides a look at how natural disaster can strike and forever change a community.

PAGES: 133
RECOMMENDED FOR: Ranges from Grades 3-11 (3/4 of reviewers say Grades 3-8)
GENRE: graphic novel
THEMES: earthquakes, survival, friendship
READALIKES: Finding Someplace (Patrick), Ninth Ward (Rhodes)
STARS AND AWARDS: none

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Despite the focus on teen characters, the overall gentle tone, emphasis on feelings, and tender message of hope should resonate with a younger audience. Affecting and meaningful.” (Kirkus, 1 Aug 2019)

Strike Zone by Mike Lupica

Twelve-year-old star Little League pitcher Nick Garcia has a dream. Several in fact. He dreams he’ll win this season’s MVP and the chance to throw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium. He dreams he’ll meet his hero, Yankee’s pitcher Michael Arroyo. He dreams they’ll find a cure for Lupus so he sister won’t have to suffer. But mostly, he dreams one day his family can stop living in fear of the government. For one kid, it’s almost too much to bear. Luckily, Nick has his two best friends Ben and Diego to keep him balanced. But when Nick notices a mysterious man lurking on his street corner, he senses a threat. Suddenly, his worst fears are realized, and just when it seems there’s no one they can trust, an unexpected hero emerges and changes everything.

PAGES: 249
RECOMMENDED FOR: Grades 5-8
GENRE: sports fiction
THEMES: immigration, baseball
READALIKES: All the Broken Pieces (Burg)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Issues and dilemmas are carefully constructed throughout the novel and mirror the real problems that many young people are experiencing today.” (Kirkus starred review, 15 Aug 2019)

The Ghost Collector by Allison Mills

Shelly and her grandmother catch ghosts. In their hair. Just like all the women in their family, they can see souls who haven’t transitioned yet; it’s their job to help the ghosts along their journey. When Shelly’s mom dies suddenly, Shelly’s relationship to ghosts—and death—changes. Instead of helping spirits move on, Shelly starts hoarding them. But no matter how many ghost cats, dogs, or people she hides in her room, Shelly can’t ignore the one ghost that’s missing. Why hasn’t her mom’s ghost come home yet?

PAGES: 200
RECOMMENDED FOR: Grades 5-8
GENRE: fantasy, supernatural
THEMES: grief, death, ghosts, Native Americans (Cree)
READALIKES: The Line Tender (Allen), Spirit Hunters (Oh), Doll Bones (Black)
STARS AND AWARDS: none

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Mills has created a gentle, understated story about grief and loss through a paranormal lens. This is a necessary book that is sure to have readers.” (SLJ, 1 Aug 2019)

Broken Strings by Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer

It’s 2002. In the aftermath of the twin towers–and the death of her beloved grandmother–Shirli Berman is intent on moving forward. The best singer in her junior high, she auditions for the lead role in Fiddler on the Roof, but is crushed to learn that she’s been given the part of the old Jewish mother in the musical rather than the coveted part of the sister. But there is an upside: her ‘husband’ is none other than Ben Morgan, the cutest and most popular boy in the school. Deciding to throw herself into the role, she rummages in her grandfather’s attic for some props. There, she discovers an old violin in the corner–strange, since her Zayde has never seemed to like music, never even going to any of her recitals. Showing it to her grandfather unleashes an anger in him she has never seen before, and while she is frightened of what it might mean, Shirli keeps trying to connect with her Zayde and discover the awful reason behind his anger.

PAGES: 282
RECOMMENDED FOR: Grades 5-8
GENRE: realistic fiction
THEMES: September 11, 2001, grief, theatre, Holocaust
READALIKES: The Eleventh Trade (Hollingsworth)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Shirli’s voice is true and strong as she narrates her own tale of rehearsals, her very ethnically diverse friendships, her deep distress as she witnesses Zayde’s pain, and her joy as he reconnects with his music. A beautiful, painful, heartfelt reminder that the past is with us still.” (Kirkus starred, 1 Jul 2019)

*Malamander by Thomas Taylor (Author) and Tom Booth (Illustrator)

It’s winter in the town of Eerie-on-Sea, where the mist is thick and the salt spray is rattling the windows of the Grand Nautilus Hotel. Inside, young Herbert Lemon, Lost and Founder for the hotel, has an unexpected visitor. It seems that Violet Parma, a fearless girl around his age, lost her parents at the hotel when she was a baby, and she’s sure that the nervous Herbert is the only person who can help her find them. The trouble is, Violet is being pursued at that moment by a strange hook-handed man. And the town legend of the Malamander–a part-fish, part-human monster whose egg is said to make dreams come true–is rearing its scaly head. As various townspeople, some good-hearted, some nefarious, reveal themselves to be monster hunters on the sly, can Herbert and Violet elude them and discover what happened to Violet’s kin?

PAGES: 289
RECOMMENDED FOR: Grades 3-7
GENRE: mystery, fantasy
THEMES: sea monsters, missing persons
READALIKES: The Problim Children (Lloyd), Lalani of the Distant Sea (Kelly)
STARS AND AWARDS: Booklist starred, BCCB starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Colorful characters, palpable atmosphere, close calls and some deliberately unanswered questions (how did little Herbie get washed up onshore in a lemon crate, and just what did happen to Violet’s parents when they took a rowboat out to sea to find her?) will hook readers on this new British series and leave them eager for more.” (SLJ, 1 Aug 2019)

Sauerkraut by Kelly Jones and Paul Davey

HD Schenk is a maker–an inventor, someone who builds cool stuff. He’s got a plan for the summer: he’ll build his own computer and enter it in the county fair. Then everyone will know who he is and what he can do. To earn enough money for the parts he’ll need, HD has promised to clear out his uncle’s overflowing basement. No big deal, right? But there’s more in that basement than HD bargained for. On his first trip down there, a voice only he can hear starts talking to him. About…sauerkraut? Who knew the ghost of his great-great-grandmother was haunting an old pickling crock? She’s got a grand plan, too. And she’ll need HD’s help to make it happen.

PAGES: 280
RECOMMENDED FOR: Grades 3-7
GENRE: supernatural, humor
THEMES: ghosts, inventions
READALIKES: Holes (Sachar), The World Ends in April (McAnulty)
STARS AND AWARDS: none

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Nuanced conversations about aging, disability, language, sexual orientation, mental health, race, and culture are hidden in the nooks and crannies of every chapter.” (Kirkus, 1 Aug 2019)

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (MIDDLE GRADES):
 

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