New Release Spotlight: October 15, 2019 (Part II, Middle Grades)

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Welcome to Part II of this week’s New Release Spotlight! I can’t guarantee that I’ll always break these up into three posts, but I do think I will do this more often. I love that they are shorter and more specific to particular grade level interests! If you are looking for the YA or picture book lists, you’ll find links at the bottom of this page.

If I were to buy only one book on this week’s middle grade list, it would absolutely be Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by debut author Kwambe Mbalia. This fantasy adventure from Rick Riordan Presents does for Black folk heroes what The Lightning Thief did for Greek Mythology. Four starred reviews is also nothing to shake a stick at, either. This one is a must for any school library!

Books with a * by the title received two or more starred professional reviews.

*The Poison Eaters: Fighting Danger and Fraud in our Food and Drugs by Gail Jarrow

Formaldehyde, borax, salicylic acid. Today, these chemicals are used in embalming fluids, cleaning supplies, and acne medications. But in 1900, they were routinely added to food that Americans ate from cans and jars. Often products weren’t safe because unregulated, unethical companies added these and other chemicals to trick consumers into buying spoiled food or harmful medicines. Chemist Harvey Washington Wiley recognized these dangers and began a relentless thirty-year campaign to ensure that consumers could purchase safe food and drugs, eventually leading to the creation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA.

This book makes me wonder what Harvey Washington would think of the chemicals and harmful ingredients the FDA allows in modern foods. Five starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5+
  • Themes: nutrition, diet, food safety, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), food inspection, greed, medicine, chemistry

The Memory Keeper by Jennifer Camiccia

Debut author! All Lulu Carter wants is to be seen. But her parents are lost in their own worlds, and Lulu has learned the hard way that having something as rare as HSAM–the ability to remember almost every single moment in her life–won’t make you popular in school.

At least Lulu has Gram, who knows the truth about Lulu’s memory and loves her all the more for it. But Gram has started becoming absentminded, and the more lost she gets, the more she depends on Lulu…until Lulu realizes her memory holds the very key to fixing Gram’s forgetfulness. Once Lulu learns that trauma can cause amnesia, all she needs to do to cure Gram is hunt down that one painful moment in Gram’s life.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: family, grandparents, memory, dementia, secrets

Lintang and the Pirate Queen by Tamara Moss

I found two very different professional reviews for this title. Publishers Weekly praised its diversity, world-building, and strong female characters. Kirkus said its inconsistencies and lack of cultural cohesion detract from the story. I would add it to my library anyway simply because it’s a fantasy story with Asian/Indonesian cultural influences and strong female characters.

Lintang is an island girl who longs for daring and danger. When she meets the feared pirate, Captain Shafira, and her all-female crew, Lintang is determined to join them. Secrets within secrets, life-or-death battles with spectacular monsters, and hair’s breadth escapes keep readers turning the pages of a story populated by women of color who are fighters, adventurers, and leaders.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-7
  • Themes: strong females, LGBT, sirens, mythology

Make Trouble Young Readers Edition: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead by Cecile Richards

This book is perfect for The Activist in my Genre Personality Quiz! Cecile Richards is a former president of Planned Parenthood. This book is a young readers’ adaptation of Richards’s 2018 memoir for adults.

Cecile Richards has been fighting for what she believes in ever since she was taken to the principal’s office in seventh grade for wearing an armband in protest of the Vietnam War. She had an extraordinary childhood in ultra-conservative Texas, where her father, a civil rights attorney, and her mother, an avid activist and the first female governor of Texas, taught their kids to be troublemakers.

From the time Richards was a girl, she had a front row seat to observe the rise of women in American politics. And by sharing her story with young readers, she shines a light on the people and lessons that have gotten her though good times and bad, and encourages her audience to take risks, make mistakes, and make trouble along the way.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5+
  • Themes: activism, civil rights, gender roles, women in politics, Texas, women’s health, reproductive health

Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace by Ashley Bryan

In May of 1942, at the age of eighteen, Ashley Bryan was drafted to fight in World War II. For the next three years, he would face the horrors of war as a black soldier in a segregated army.

He endured the terrible lies white officers told about the black soldiers to isolate them from anyone who showed kindness–including each other. He received worse treatment than even Nazi POWs. He was assigned the grimmest, most horrific tasks, like burying fallen soldiers…but was told to remove the black soldiers first because the media didn’t want them in their newsreels. And he waited and wanted so desperately to go home, watching every white soldier get safe passage back to the United States before black soldiers were even a thought.

For the next forty years, Ashley would keep his time in the war a secret. But now, he tells his story. Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction, memoir
  • Recommended for: Grade 5-adult
  • Themes: prejudice and racism, WWII, segregation, military, war, African-Americans

Elizabeth Webster and the Court of Uncommon Pleas by William Lashner

Welcome to Elizabeth Webster’s world, where the common laws of middle school torment her days…and the uncommon laws of an even weirder realm govern her nights.

Elizabeth Webster is happy to stay under the radar (and under her bangs) until middle school is dead and gone. But when star swimmer Henry Harrison asks Elizabeth to tutor him in math, it’s not linear equations Henry really needs help with-it’s a flower-scented, poodle-skirt-wearing, head-tossing ghost who’s calling out Elizabeth’s name.

  • Genre(s): supernatural, mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: ghosts, law, hell, demons, family secrets, haunted houses, scary stories

*Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

Debut author! Tristan Strong feels anything but strong ever since he failed to save his best friend Eddie when they were in a bus accident together. But on his first night at his grandparents’ farm, a sticky creature shows up in his bedroom and steals Eddie’s notebook. When Tristan chases after, he finds himself in the middle of a battle that has left black American folk heroes John Henry and Brer Rabbit exhausted. In order to get back home, Tristan and these new allies will need to entice the god Anansi to come out of hiding. Can Tristan save this world before he loses more of the things he loves?

This sounds so cool! A character called Gum Baby gets several mentions in reviews–apparently he’s hilarious. Between that description and the four starred professional reviews, this one’s a must for any school library.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: African folklore, African-Americans, John Henry, Anansi, Brer Rabbit

Give and Take by Elly Swartz

I only know of two books about hoarding that are for middle graders: Dirty Little Secrets (Omololu), which deals with a parent’s hoarding, and The Battle of Junk Mountain (Greenberg), which is about a 12-year old girl’s hoarding. Give and Take is helping to fill a need, even for kids who aren’t in hoarding situations. Many kids live in messy homes where old dirty dishes pile up, animal feces dot the floor, and roaches climb the walls. Yet there is precious little out there to show them they are not alone.

Family has always been important to twelve-year-old Maggie: a trapshooter, she is coached by her dad and cheered on by her mom. But her grandmother’s recent death leaves a giant hole in Maggie’s life, one which she begins to fill with an assortment of things: candy wrappers, pieces of tassel from Nana’s favorite scarf, milk cartons, sticks…all stuffed in cardboard boxes under her bed. Then her parents decide to take in a foster infant. But anxiety over the new baby’s departure only worsens Maggie’s hoarding, and soon she finds herself taking and taking until she spirals out of control.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: hoarding, foster families, grief

Everything Awesome About Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts! by Mike Lowery

When I write up these Spotlights, I include all or part of the publisher’s summary in my description. Sometimes though, the publisher’s summary is full of “loaded” language rather than just telling us what the book is about. This drives me nuts. This book contains jokes. Awesome! Kids love jokes. But when you say that the book has a “signature comic style with bright and energetic artwork, fresh feel and hilarious jokes,” that’s just a whole bunch of sales-y, loaded language. So here’s the short version of the publisher’s summary, minus the sales-speak:

…dinosaur enthusiasts…field guide…facts and humour…prehistoric beasts!…prehistoric…dinosaurs…weird, wacky and wild facts about dinosaurs…bright artwork…jokes…dinosaur enthusiasts…non-fiction…dinosaurs.

Trust me, that summary was a whole lot longer. The take-away: it’s a dinosaur nonfiction fact book that’s colorfully-illustrated and has jokes. I’ve included it on this list because I have no doubt that kids will love this book. But publishers, please stop it with the excessive loaded language. Just tell us what the book is about. Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5
  • Themes: prehistoric animals, dinosaurs, archaeology, humor, jokes

The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao

Debut author! This is a fantasy adventure based in Chinese mythology–I love it! It’s a perfect fit for Chinese New Year in January/February.

As a member of the Jade Society, twelve-year-old Faryn Liu dreams of honoring her family and the gods by becoming a warrior. But the Society has shunned Faryn and her brother Alex ever since their father disappeared years ago, forcing them to train in secret.

Then, during an errand into San Francisco, Faryn stumbles into a battle with a demon–and helps defeat it. She just might be the fabled Heaven Breaker, a powerful warrior meant to work for the all-mighty deity, the Jade Emperor, by commanding an army of dragons to defeat the demons. That is, if she can prove her worth and find the island of the immortals before the Lunar New Year. Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): fantasy, adventure, mythology
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: Chinese mythology, Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year, demons, warriors, San Francisco, California, dragons




green forest background with New Release Spotlight overlay  cover image--New Release Spotlight--Middle Grades--Oct. 15, 2019  Cover image--New Release Spotlight--Young Adult--Oct. 15, 2019


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