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New Release Spotlight: Best of March 2022 (Middle Grades)

Welcome to Part II of my Best of March 2022 Spotlight! This is the new book releases for middle grades list, which I define as Grades 3-7. Middle grades are STRONG this month, with every title I selected earning at least two starred reviews from professional library journals.

I also have Best YA Books March 2022 and Best Picture Books March 2022 if you prefer those lists.

Remember that this list reflects only titles from March 8-March 31. I previously wrote a separate Spotlight for March 1st titles.

My top picks:

  • The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill
  • Falling Short by Ernesto Cisneros
  • Those Kids from Fawn Creek by Erin Entrada Kelly

This week’s Spotlight titles are #2382-#2392 on The Ginormous book list.

*We Are Wolves by Katrina Nannestad

Sometimes it’s good to be wild. Sometimes, you have to be.

When the Russian Army marches into East Prussia at the end of World War II, the Wolf family must flee. Being caught by the Russians or Americans would be the end for them. Liesl, Otto, and baby Mia’s father has already been captured, and they get separated from their mother in a blizzard after only a few days on the run.

Liesl promised Mama that she’d keep her brother and sister safe, no matter what. They’ll forage in the forests if they have to. Little do they know at the start that there are hundreds of other parentless children doing the same thing. And they far too quickly learn that, sometimes, to survive, you have to do bad things.

Dangerous things. Wild things. Sometimes you must become a wolf.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, thriller, adventure
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: WWII, Russia, on the run, survival, siblings, 1940s, Lithuania, East Prussia, refugees. Wolfskinder, Russia, human kindness, empathy
  • Protagonist description: female, age 11, German

*A Song Called Home by Sara Zarr

Lou and her family don’t have much, but for Lou it’s enough. Mom. Her sister, Casey. Their apartment in the city. Her best friend, Beth. It would be better if Dad could stop drinking and be there for her and Casey, and if they didn’t have to worry about money all the time. But Lou doesn’t need better–she only needs enough.

What’s enough for Lou, however, is not enough for Mom. Steve, Mom’s boyfriend, isn’t a bad guy, he’s just…not what Lou is used to. And now, he and Mom are getting married, and that means moving. Packing up life as they’ve known it and storing it in Steve’s garage. Lou will be separated from everything in her small but predictable life, farther from Dad than ever.

Their last night in the city, Lou receives a mysterious birthday gift: A guitar, left for her by their front door. There’s nothing saying who left it, but it must be from Dad. And as she leaves the only place she’s ever known, she starts to believe that if she can learn how to play it, maybe she can bring a piece of him, and of her old life, home.

Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: alcoholic parent (father), financial problems, divorce, poverty, wedding of parent (mother), blended family, stepfamilies, new kid at school, learning to play guitar, change, school talent shows, stealing, puberty, San Francisco, California
  • Protagonist description: female, 5th grader, white

*The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill

Stone-in-the-Glen, once a lovely town, has fallen on hard times. Fires, floods, and other calamities have caused the people to lose their library, their school, their park, and even their neighborliness.

The people put their faith in the Mayor, a dazzling fellow who promises he alone can help. After all, he is a famous dragon slayer. (At least, no one has seen a dragon in his presence.) Only the clever children of the Orphan House and the kindly Ogress at the edge of town can see how dire the town’s problems are.

Then one day a child goes missing from the Orphan House. At the Mayor’s suggestion, all eyes turn to the Ogress. The Orphans know this can’t be: the Ogress, along with a flock of excellent crows, secretly delivers gifts to the people of Stone-in-the-Glen.

But how can the Orphans tell the story of the Ogress’s goodness to people who refuse to listen? And how can they make their deluded neighbors see the real villain in their midst?

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): fantasy
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: orphans, missing persons, kindness, neighbors, community, suspicion, modern fairy tales, divisiveness, importance of libraries, ogres, dragons, allegory of decline of kindness and community in USA
  • Protagonist description: mostly human characters, cued white

*The Turtle of Michigan by Naomi Shihab Nye

Sequel to: The Turtle of Oman. Aref is excited for his journey to reunite with his father in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Aref makes a friend on an airplane, wonders what Michigan will be like, and starts school in the United States. While he does miss his grandfather, his Sidi, Aref knows that his home in Oman will always be waiting for him.

The Turtle of Michigan explores immigration, family, and what it means to feel at home. Carrying a suitcase and memories of Oman, Aref experiences the excitement and nervousness that accompanies moving to a new home. The Turtle of Michigan is a great choice for reading aloud and a must-have for younger middle grade readers.

Kirkus and SLJ starred. Illustrated in black-and-white throughout.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: moving to a new country, immigration, family life, school
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 8, Omani

*Those Kids from Fawn Creek by Erin Entrada Kelly

There are twelve kids in the seventh grade at Fawn Creek Middle School. They’ve been together all their lives. And in this small factory town where everyone knows everything about everyone, that’s not necessarily a great thing.

There are thirteen desks in the seventh-grade classroom. That’s because Renni Dean’s father got a promotion, and the family moved to Grand Saintlodge, the nearest big town. Renni’s desk is empty, but Renni still knows their secrets; is still pulling their strings.

When Orchid Mason arrives and slips gracefully into Renni’s chair, the other seventh graders don’t know what to think. Orchid–who was born in New York City but just moved to Fawn Creek from Paris–seems to float. Her dress skims the floor. She’s wearing a flower behind her ear.

Fawn Creek Middle might be small, but it has its tightly knit groups–the self-proclaimed “God Squad,” the jocks, the outsiders–just like anyplace else. Who will claim Orchid Mason? Who will save Orchid Mason? Or will Orchid Mason save them?

FOUR starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: small towns, cliques, secrets, friendship, middle school, Louisiana, individualism, nonconformity, rural South (USA), pigeonholing, mean girls
  • Protagonist description: multiple perspectives of 7th grade students, all are cued-white

*The Sheep, the Rooster, and the Duck: A Tale from the Age of Wonder by Matt Phelan

The very first passengers to ride in a hot-air balloon were a sheep, a rooster, and a duck in 1783. And while hot-air balloons are indeed wondrous, ten-year-old Emile is too busy being the fastidious caretaker of ambassador Benjamin Franklin’s château in Paris to think much about them.

But soon, young Emile finds himself right in the middle of a sinister plot. And right in the middle of the secret headquarters for France’s undercover guardians–the very same sheep, rooster, and duck that piloted the first hot-air balloon. If Emile can muster his courage and be bold, he may be the key to helping the heroes save both Benjamin Franklin and the world.

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): historical fiction, humor
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-7
  • Themes: 18th Century, hot air balloons, Benjamin Franklin, Paris, France, world firsts, animal testing, superheroes, house servants, historical events, aviation history
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 10, French, white

*Louisa June and the Nazis in the Waves by L. M. Elliott

Days after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Hitler declared war on the U.S., unleashing U-boat submarines to attack American ships. Suddenly, the waves outside Louisa June’s farm aren’t for eel-fishing or marveling at wild swans or learning to skull her family’s boat—they’re dangerous, swarming with hidden enemies.

Her oldest brothers’ ships risk coming face-to-face with U-boats. Her sister leaves home to weld Liberty Boat hulls. And then her daddy, a tugboat captain, and her dearest brother, Butler, are caught in the crossfire.

Her mama has always swum in a sea of melancholy, but now she really needs Louisa June to find moments of beauty or inspiration to buoy her. Like sunshine-yellow daffodils, good books, or news accounts of daring rescues of torpedoed passengers.

Determined to help her Mama and aching to combat Nazis herself, Louisa June turns to her quirky friend Emmett and the indomitable Cousin Belle, who has her own war stories–and a herd of cats–to share. In the end, after a perilous sail, Louisa June learns the greatest lifeline is love.

FIVE starred reviews! Includes black-and-white photos.

  • Genre(s): historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-8
  • Themes: 1940s, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Virginia, WWII, Adolf Hitler, U-boats, Nazis, family, death of a sibling (older brother), mental health, depression, US history, world history
  • Protagonist description: female, age 13, white, American

*Falling Short by Ernesto Cisneros

Isaac and Marco already know sixth grade is going to change their lives. But it won’t change things at home–not without each other’s help.

This year, star basketball player Isaac plans on finally keeping up with his schoolwork. Better grades will surely stop Isaac’s parents from arguing all the time. Meanwhile, straight-A Marco vows on finally winning his father’s approval by earning a spot on the school’s basketball team.

But will their friendship and support for each other be enough to keep the two boys from falling short?

THREE starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: friendship, family problems, basketball, middle school, parental separation, alternating viewpoints, neighbors, alcoholic parent (father), toxic masculinity, cooperation, Mexican Americans
  • Protagonist description: two boys, 6th grade, both Latinx, one Jewish

*I Begin with Spring: The Life and Seasons of Henry David Thoreau by Julie Dunlap (Author), Megan Elizabeth Baratta (Illustrator)

I Begin with Spring weaves natural history around Henry David Thoreau’s life and times in a richly illustrated field notebook format that can be opened anywhere and invites browsing on every page. Beginning each season with quotes from Thoreau’s schoolboy essay about the changing seasons, Early Bloomer follows him through the fields and woods of Concord, the joys and challenges of growing up, his experiment with simple living on Walden Pond, and his participation in the abolition movement, self-reliance, science, and literature.

The book’s two organizing themes–the chronology of Thoreau’s life and the seasonal cycle beginning with spring–interact seamlessly on every spread, suggesting the correspondence of human seasons with nature’s. Thoreau’s annual records of blooms, bird migrations, and other natural events scroll in a timeline across the page bottoms, and the backmatter includes a summary of how those dates have changed from his day to ours and what that tells us about the science of phenology and climate change.

Megan Baratta’s watercolors are augmented with historical images and reproductions of Thoreau’s own sketches to create a high-interest visual experience. The book includes a foreword from Thoreau scholar Jeffrey Cramer, Curator of Collections for the Walden Woods Project.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): poetry
  • Recommended for: Grades 2-7
  • Themes: spring, Henry David Thoreau, nature, seasons, Concord, Massachusetts, 19th Century, outdoor play, flowers, observations, scientific journals
  • Protagonist description: male, white, American

*Worser by Jennifer Ziegler

William Wyatt Orser, a socially awkward middle schooler, is a wordsmith who, much to his annoyance, acquired the ironically ungrammatical nickname of “Worser” so long ago that few people at school know to call him anything else.

Worser grew up with his mom, a professor of rhetoric and an introvert just like him, in a comfortable routine that involved reading aloud in the evenings, criticizing the grammar of others, ignoring the shabby mess of their house, and suffering the bare minimum of social interactions with others. But recently all that has changed. His mom had a stroke that left her nonverbal, and his Aunt Iris has moved in with her cats, art projects, loud music, and even louder clothes. Home for Worser is no longer a refuge from the unsympathetic world at school that it has been all his life.

Feeling lost, lonely, and overwhelmed, Worser searches for a new sanctuary and ends up finding the Literary Club–a group of kids from school who share his love of words and meet in a used bookstore–something he never dreamed existed outside of his home. Even more surprising to Worser is that the key to making friends is sharing the thing he holds dearest: his Masterwork, the epic word notebook that he has been adding entries to for years.

But relationships can be precarious, and it is up to Worser to turn the page in his own story to make something that endures so that he is no longer seen as Worser and earns a new nickname, Worder.

Kirkus and Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): realistic fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades 4-7
  • Themes: middle school, words, bad nicknames, introverts, parental stroke, aunts, bookish, making friends, bullying, SAT vocabulary words, social awkwardness
  • Protagonist description: boy, age 12, white

*Just a Girl: A True Story of World War II by Lia Levi (Author), Jess Mason (Illustrator), and Sylvia Notini (Translator)

1938, Italy. Six-year-old Lia loves to build sandcastles at the beach and her biggest problem is her shyness and quiet, birdlike voice–until prime minister Mussolini joins forces with Hitler in World War II, and everything changes.

Now there are laws saying Jewish children can’t go to school, Jews can’t work, or go on vacation. It’s difficult for Lia to understand why this is happening to her family. When her father loses his job, they must give up their home and move from city to city.

As war comes closer, it becomes too dangerous to stay together, and Lia and her sisters are sent to hide at a convent. Will she ever be “just a girl” again?

The memoir is full of poignant moments of friendship and loss, dreaded tests at school, told in Lia’s captivating voice, as she grows into a young teen. Just a Girl is an important addition to the WWII Jewish canon.

Booklist and Kirkus starred. Includes black and white illustrations. Translated from Italian.

  • Genre(s): memoir, autobiography
  • Recommended for: Grades 3-8
  • Themes: Italy, 1930s, WWII, Jews, discrimination, pre-Holocaust, anti-Semitism, Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, dictators, war, sisters, living in hiding
  • Protagonist description: female, Jewish, Italian

 

THIS WEEK’S SEQUELS (MIDDLE GRADES):

 

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ABOUT THE SPOTLIGHT

The New Release Spotlight began in May 2016 as a way to help librarians keep up with the many new children’s and YA books that are released each week. Every Tuesday, school librarian Leigh Collazo compiles the New Release Spotlight using a combination of Follett’s Titlewave, Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes and Noble. As always, titles with a * by them received two or more starred professional reviews. Recommended grade levels represent the range of grade levels recommended by professional book reviewers.

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