New Release Spotlight: October 1, 2019, Part II (Middle Grades)

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Looking to freshen up your middle grade titles? The Oct. 1 Spotlight for middle grades offers something for everyone! I am most likely to read Sweet Pea 1.) because it’s by Julie Murphy, 2.) it’s about an overweight seventh grader, and 3.) her parents are divorcing. Sweet Pea could have been me in seventh grade, so I’m excited to read it. I’ve also pre-ordered White Bird for my own seventh grader. He loved Wonder, and he reads graphic novels voraciously. I barely even ask him any more if this or that graphic novel looks good to him. I just order them, and he sucks them down.

White Bird: A Wonder Story by R. J. Palacio

R.J. Palacio has written a graphic novel, based in the world of Wonder. This story is about Julian’s grandmother Sara’s experience as a Jewish woman in France during WWII. Sara led a charmed life until one day in 1943, when Nazi soldiers entered her progressive school to arrest the Jews. Her classmate Torteau helped her escape, and his family hid Sara from Nazis for over a year. This story parallels Wonder because just as Julian bullied Auggie, Sara and her friends bullied polio survivor Torteau, who walked with crutches.

I’m definitely getting this for my 12-year old son! He loved Wonder, both as a book and as a movie, and this story of a victim saving his bully’s life is right up his alley. He LOVES graphic novels and though he zips through them quickly, I have no problem buying graphic novels for him because he reads them over and over and over. Professional reviews for White Bird are positive, but surprisingly, it received only one starred review (from Kirkus).

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, graphic novel
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-10
  • Themes: WWII, France, bullying

*Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt

Free verse novel told in two voices. Kate appears to be the perfect girl: a popular cheerleader with a sleek ponytail. Tam is tall, a volleyball player with cropped hair and a free-to-be-you-and-me outlook on life. The two girls seem to have nothing in common, but a friendship and eventually, a romance, develops.

Try reading the versus horizontally and vertically for different meanings and perspectives. This novel received starred professional reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. Pair it with Gephart’s Lily and Dunkin or, for YA, Talley’s Lies We Tell Ourselves.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction, free verse
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-9
  • Themes: LGBT, growing up, appearances

Reach for the Skai: How to Inspire, Empower, and Clapback by Skai Jackson

Surprisingly, I know who Skai Jackson is! Without the benefit of English television shows in China, my boys watched our Jessie DVDs on repeat when we first moved to China. It’s a cute show, and the little actress playing Zuri is an adorable, funny spitfire.

Skai Jackson as a real person is apparently a spitfire, too. I bet lots of her young fans believe she’s got it so easy, but in fact, she’s been the target of social media bullies and discrimination in Hollywood due to her dark skin tone. In this book, Jackson writes candidly about the difficulties of growing up onscreen and her experiences with discrimination and online bullying.

Kirkus starred this memoir.

  • Genre(s): memoir, biography, nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-6
  • Themes: Hollywood, child actors, African-Americans, discrimination, bullying

Nature’s Ninja: Animals with Spectacular Skills by Rebecca L. Johnson

I don’t have much to say about this one except that it’s Kirkus starred, so I want to include it on this list. I know how popular animal books are, especially in elementary, so I’m sure this book will get some checkout among students who enjoy reading animal nonfiction. It also provides facts about ninjas, making it also appeal to students interested in martial arts.

Did you know that some animals have natural ninja-like talents? In this book, you’ll learn all about them, including geckos, sea urchins, bombardier beetles, and more.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: ninjutsu, insects, animals, nature

Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee

#MeToo for middle grades–love this idea and the summary. I can remember this being an issue for me in 4th and 5th grade (and hearing “Maybe he just likes you” to excuse it), way back in the late-1980s. For me, it was when we played freeze tag, boys vs. girls, and I ultimately stopped playing because of the “hugging” from a particular older boy. It’s not okay, and I’m ecstatic to see a book finally addressing this issue with middle graders.

For seventh-grader Mila, it starts with some boys giving her an unwanted hug on the school blacktop. A few days later, at recess, one of the boys (and fellow trumpet player) Callum tells Mila it’s his birthday, and asks her for a “birthday hug.” He’s just being friendly, isn’t he? And how can she say no? But Callum’s hug lasts a few seconds too long, and feels…weird.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: sexual harassment, LGBT+, #metoo, bullying

*I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day

Debut author! This book is about a 12-year old girl named Edie who is Native American but was adopted into a white family. Edie does not know anything about her biological family history (her parents claim to know nothing about her biological family). One day, Edie finds letters and photos in the attic. The photos are of a woman named Edith, who looks much like Edie. Who is this woman? Why do her adopted parents claim to know nothing about her even though there’s a whole box of photos of the woman in their attic?

National Adoption Day is coming up on November 25, and this would be a great title to read aloud from to celebrate adoption and Native American history. Author Christine Day is herself a citizen of the Upper Skagit tribe in Washington state. I Can Make This Promise received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: adoption, Native Americans, identity, #ownvoices

*A Tale of Magic by Chris Colfer

Tale of Magic, book 1. The Land of Stories series has been crazy-popular with my middle grade students for several years now, so this prequel series set in the Land of Stories universe is a no-brainer purchase for libraries serving tweens.

When Brystal Evergreen stumbles across a secret section of the library, she discovers a book that introduces her to a world beyond her imagination and learns the impossible: She is a fairy capable of magic! But in the oppressive Southern Kingdom, women are forbidden from reading and magic is outlawed, so Brystal is swiftly convicted of her crimes and sent to the miserable Bootstrap Correctional Facility.

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: fairies, magic, empathy, open-mindedness

*Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy

Dumplin’ author Julie Murphy has written her first middle grade novel! Seventh grader Sweet Pea’s parents have just informed her they are going to divorce. They will live in identical houses on the same street, with one house in between. In the “between” house lives Miss Flora Mae, writer of an advice column. When Miss Flora Mae goes on vacation, she asks Sweet Pea to forward her mail. But when Sweet Pea sees a letter with familiar handwriting, she opens that letter…and decides to answer it and others.

As with her YA books, Murphy is receiving massive early praise for Sweet Pea as well. We have a small town Texas setting and an overweight protagonist who is blissfully normal. Seventh grade me needed a book like this–I was also a plump middle schooler dealing with friend drama and divorcing parents. Three starred professional reviews.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: divorce, friendship, advice columns, weight issues


Looking for more? This week’s Spotlight was so long that I split it into three parts:



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