New Release Spotlight: February 4, 2020 (middle grades)

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Another big list this week! I have once again split this week’s Spotlight into three groups: young adult, middle grades, and picture books. This is the middle grade Spotlight. The YA and picture book lists are also linked at the bottom of this page.

This week’s middle grade list is probably the best single list I’ve seen in 2020 so far! I would even say that King of the Dragonflies, Snapdragon, and Chirp are absolute MUSTS for upper-elementary and middle school libraries. This week’s middle grade Spotlight was pretty difficult to pare down to only 10 titles, and I ended up adding two additional titles after I thought I was finished with this post. All this is to say, every middle grade librarian will find something for their library on this list–probably many somethings.

As always, titles with a * by them received two or more starred professional reviews. And don’t forget to bookmark The Ginormous book list, which hit 400 titles with this week’s new additions!

*King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender

Twelve-year-old Kingston James is sure his brother Khalid has turned into a dragonfly. When Khalid unexpectedly passed away, he shed what was his first skin for another to live down by the bayou in their small Louisiana town. Khalid still visits in dreams, and King must keep these secrets to himself as he watches grief transform his family.

It would be easier if King could talk with his best friend, Sandy Sanders. But just days before he died, Khalid told King to end their friendship, after overhearing a secret about Sandy-that he thinks he might be gay. “You don’t want anyone to think you’re gay too, do you?”

But when Sandy goes missing, sparking a town-wide search, and King finds his former best friend hiding in a tent in his backyard, he agrees to help Sandy escape from his abusive father, and the two begin an adventure as they build their own private paradise down by the bayou and among the dragonflies. As King’s friendship with Sandy is reignited, he’s forced to confront questions about himself and the reality of his brother’s death.

FIVE starred reviews!!!!

  • Genre(s): magical realism
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-9
  • Themes: death of a sibling, grief, hate crimes, African-Americans, Louisiana, LGBT+, discrimination, abuse, escape, survival

*Chirp by Kate Messner

When Mia moves to Vermont the summer after seventh grade, she’s recovering from the broken arm she got falling off a balance beam. And packed away in the moving boxes under her clothes and gymnastics trophies is a secret she’d rather forget.

Mia’s change in scenery brings day camp, new friends, and time with her beloved grandmother. But Gram is convinced someone is trying to destroy her cricket farm. Is it sabotage or is Gram’s thinking impaired from the stroke she suffered months ago? Mia and her friends set out to investigate, but can they uncover the truth in time to save Gram’s farm? And will that discovery empower Mia to confront the secret she’s been hiding–and find the courage she never knew she had?

Three starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): mystery
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: detectives, insects, coming of age, grandmothers, farms, Vermont, sexual abuse, strokes, gymnastics

We Had to Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport by Deborah Hopkinson

Ruth David was growing up in a small village in Germany when Adolf Hitler rose to power in the 1930s. Under the Nazi Party, Jewish families like Ruth’s experienced rising anti-Semitic restrictions and attacks. Just going to school became dangerous. By November 1938, anti-Semitism erupted into Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, and unleashed a wave of violence and forced arrests.

Days later, desperate volunteers sprang into action to organize the Kindertransport, a rescue effort to bring Jewish children to England. Young people like Ruth David had to say good-bye to their families, unsure if they’d ever be reunited. Miles from home, the Kindertransport refugees entered unrecognizable lives, where food, clothes — and, for many of them, language and religion — were startlingly new. Meanwhile, the onset of war and the Holocaust visited unimaginable horrors on loved ones left behind. Somehow, these rescued children had to learn to look forward, to hope.

Through the moving and often heart-wrenching personal accounts of Kindertransport survivors, critically acclaimed and award-winning author Deborah Hopkinson paints the timely and devastating story of how the rise of Hitler and the Nazis tore apart the lives of so many families and what they were forced to give up in order to save these children.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): narrative nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4+
  • Themes: Holocaust, Jewish people, Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler, hope, sacrifice, survival, Kindertransport, refugees, anti-Semitism, WWII

*Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani (Author) and Maris Wicks (Illustrator)

America may have put the first man on the moon, but it was the Soviet space program that made Valentina Tereshkova the first woman in space. Meanwhile, in the United States, NASA’s first female astronauts were racing toward milestones of their own.

These trail-blazing women were admitted into Group 9, NASA’s first mixed-gender class. They had the challenging task of convincing the powers that be that a woman’s place is in space. But once they’d been admitted into the training program, they discovered that NASA had plenty to learn about how to make space travel possible for all humans. This book captures the great humor and incredible drive of Mary Cleve, Valentina Tereshkova, and the first women in space.

Three starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): nonfiction, graphic novel
  • Recommended for: Grades 7-10
  • Themes: Space Race, female astronauts, Soviet Union, NASA, famous firsts, space travel, feminism, US history


The Body Under the Piano by Marthe Jocelyn (Author) and Isabelle Follath (Illustrator)

Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen, book 1. Aggie Morton lives in a small town on the coast of England in 1902. Adventurous and imaginative but deeply shy, Aggie hasn’t got much to do since the death of her beloved father…until the fateful day when she crosses paths with twelve-year-old Belgian immigrant Hector Perot and discovers a dead body on the floor of the Mermaid Dance Room!

As the number of suspects grows and the murder threatens to tear the town apart, Aggie and her new friend will need every tool at their disposal–including their insatiable curiosity, deductive skills and not a little help from their friends–to solve the case before Aggie’s beloved dance instructor is charged with a crime Aggie is sure she didn’t commit.

Aggie Morton is a fictionalized young Agatha Christie, so fans will find plenty of Easter eggs within the story.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-6
  • Themes: detectives, Agatha Christie, England, murder, early 20th Century, grief, death of a parent, Hercule Poirot, grandmothers

Middle School Bites by Steven Banks (Author) and Mark Fearing (Illustrator)

Thanks to a series of unfortunate bites, eleven-year-old Tom is a triple threat- he’s a Vam-Wolf-Zom. And just in time for the first day of middle school. So much for his Invisible Tom Plan. He never thought to make a What If I Turn Into A Vampire Werewolf Zombie Plan. Maybe it’s time for a Run Away and Live Somewhere Else Plan?

With the help of his irrepressible best friend, Zeke, Tom tries to accept his future. Zeke thinks being a Vam-Wolf-Zom sounds EXCELLENT! (Zeke thinks everything sounds EXCELLENT!) At least he’ll be able to stand up to the sixth-grade bully. The question is will the rest of Hamilton Middle School accept the Vam-Wolf-Zom, too?

No starred reviews, but all the professional reviews I read say that this will be in hot demand. Most pages contain illustrations, further adding to the appeal, particularly for reluctant readers. I’d buy only one copy to start, but I recommend keeping a close eye on the need for more.

  • Genre(s): humor, supernatural
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: vampires, werewolves, zombies, middle school, siblings

*Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Snap’s town had a witch. At least, that’s how the rumor goes. But in reality, Jacks is just a crocks-wearing, internet-savvy old lady who sells roadkill skeletons online–after doing a little ritual to put their spirits to rest. It’s creepy, sure, but Snap thinks it’s kind of cool, too.

They make a deal: Jacks will teach Snap how to take care of the baby opossums that Snap rescued, and Snap will help Jacks with her work. But as Snap starts to get to know Jacks, she realizes that Jacks may in fact have real magic–and a connection with Snap’s family’s past.

Another title with three starred reviews!!!

  • Genre(s): fantasy, graphic novel
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-8
  • Themes: witches, magic, single parent families, diverse characters, bullying, opossums, abuse (mother’s ex-boyfriend)

Poems Aloud: An Anthology of Poems to Read out Loud by Joseph Coelho (Author) and Daniel Gray-Barnett (Illustrator)

There aren’t many reviews available for this title, but I’m including it because I’m always on the lookout for new poetry anthologies for children. Publishers Weekly also praises its “engaging approach to connecting young readers with poetry, which will be of particular use in the classroom.”

This book teaches all sorts of clever ways to performing poetry. Children will learn 20 techniques for reading aloud by trying out 20 funny and thoughtful original poems by the much loved and award-winning performance poet, Joseph Coelho. There are tongue twisters, poems to project, poems to whisper, poems to make you laugh. There are poems to perform to a whole class and others to whisper in somebody’s ear. Richly textured, warm and stylish illustrations by Daniel Gray-Barnett bring each page to life.

  • Genre(s): poetry anthology
  • Recommended for: Grades K-5
  • Themes: humor, rhyme, poetry styles (tongue twisters, action poems, group reads)

Give Us the Vote!: Over Two Hundred Years of Fighting for the Ballot by Susan Goldman Rubin

For over 200 years, people have marched, gone to jail, risked their lives, and even died trying to get the right to vote in the United States. Others, hungry to acquire or hold onto power, have gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent people from casting ballets or outright stolen votes and sometimes entire elections.

Perfect for students who want to know more about voting rights, this nonfiction book contains an extensive view of suffrage from the Founding Fathers to the 19th Amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to today’s voter suppression controversies, and explains the barriers people of color, indigenous people, and immigrants face. Back matter includes a bibliography, source notes, texts of the Constitution and amendments, a timeline, and an index.

No starred reviews, but all professional reviews are positive.

  • Genre(s): nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 5-11
  • Themes: voting rights, suffrage, 19th Amendment, Civil Rights Act, democracy, US history

Here in the Real World by Sarah Pennypacker

Ware can’t wait to spend summer “off in his own world”–dreaming of knights in the Middle Ages and generally being left alone. But then his parents sign him up for dreaded Rec camp, where he must endure Meaningful Social Interaction and whatever activities so-called “normal” kids do.

On his first day Ware meets Jolene, a tough, secretive girl planting a garden in the rubble of an abandoned church next to the camp. Soon he starts skipping Rec, creating a castle-like space of his own in the church lot. Jolene scoffs, calling him a dreamer–he doesn’t live in the “real world” like she does. As different as Ware and Jolene are, though, they have one thing in common: for them, the lot is a refuge.

But when their sanctuary is threatened, Ware looks to the knights’ Code of Chivalry: Thou shalt do battle against unfairness wherever faced with it. Thou shalt be always the champion of the Right and Good–and vows to save the lot.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: introverts, summer camp, socialization, imagination, gardening, abuse, self-acceptance, self-advocacy, quiet

Itch by Polly Farquhar

Isaac’s sixth grade year gets off to a rough start. For one thing, a tornado tears the roof off the school cafeteria. His mother leaves on a two month business trip to China. And as always…there’s the itch. It comes out of nowhere. Idiopathic, which means no one knows what causes it. It starts small, but it spreads, and soon–it’s everywhere. It’s everything. It’s why everyone calls him Itch–everyone except his best friend Sydney, the only one in all of Ohio who’s always on his side, ever since he moved here.

At least Itch has his job at the pheasant farm, which is tough but cool. And most of the guys at school are okay to hang out with, even if they’re crazy about college football, and Itch could care less. He’s doing the best he can to get along–until everything goes wrong in the middle of a lunch swap. When Sydney collapses and an ambulance is called, Itch blames himself. And he’s not the only one.

When you have no friends at all, wouldn’t you do anything–even something you know you shouldn’t–to get them back?

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: idiopathic angioedema, allergies, chronic illness, fitting in, bullying, name-calling, kids with jobs, Ohio, #ownvoices

Things Seen from Above by Shelley Pearsall

April is looking for an escape from the sixth-grade lunch hour, which has become a social-scene nightmare, so she signs up to be a ‘buddy bench monitor’ for the fourth graders’ recess. Joey Byrd is a boy on the fringes, who wanders the playground alone, dragging his foot through the dirt. But over time, April realizes that Joey isn’t just making random circles. When you look at his designs from above, a story emerges…Joey’s ‘bird’s eye’ drawings reveal what he observes and thinks about every day.

This story sounds really unique and brings to mind a realistic version of Lisa McMann’s Unwanteds series. Professional reviews are positive, though there are no starred reviews. Early Goodreads reviews are quite positive, but with only 13 Goodreads reviews as of this writing, it’s hard to tell which way that will go.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: art, recess, bullying, special needs, socialization, ways of seeing






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