If you could have any ability, what would you wish for? If you had the chance to cure yourself or live forever, would you do it? If you had the opportunity to seize your greatest dream, but it would mean lying to your parents, would it be worth the risk of being caught? If it would mean the undoing of your guilt, would you sacrifice your friendships? Such are the questions that readers will encounter as they enjoy some of the best new fiction for middle grade students.
BLAKEMORE, Megan Frazer. The Water Castle. Walker. 2013. ISBN 9780802728395. JLG Level: FM : Fantasy/Science Fiction Middle (Grades 5–8).
Reminiscent of Tuck Everlasting (Farrar, 1975), the Appledore-Smiths move into the family castle known for its mythical, curative waters. Ephraim yearns to find the Fountain of Youth, hoping it will reverse the effects of his father’s stroke. Complicating the search is an ancient feud among the Smith, Wylie, and Darlings families. Against all expectations, grudge-holding ancestors unite to solve the mysteries of the mansion―interior rooms don’t fit the exterior floor plan. If the lake was the source of the magical water, why are there so many secret tunnels that lead away from the lake? A hidden lab reveals scientific research that points to amazing conclusions. Journal entries during the time of the Peary-Henson expedition disclose evidence to readers that all magic may not be mystical. Science may indeed be the missing ingredient.
Themes of being an outsider and friendships that overcome long-standing quarrels, strengthen Blakemore’s fantastical quest, urging readers to consider their own decisions, whether or not they are faced with a choice of living forever.
FEDERLE, Tim. Better Nate than Ever. S & S. 2013. ISBN 9781442446892. JLG Level: B : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5–7).
Nate has never been the center of attention―unless he’s being bullied. Plotting an overnight trip to New York City, Nate and best friend Libby prepare for the worst-case scenario at his Broadway show audition. Unfortunately, the unexpected happens and the stagestruck teenager finds himself at callbacks with no money, a dead phone, and seriously big trouble if he doesn’t get on the bus to return home before his parents. Adding to his guilt is an estranged aunt, who gets caught in the middle of his deception.
Full of humor and irony, Nate struggles with self-worth and gay-bashing in a town where he finally seems to fit in―except for the fact that if he stays one second longer he could be grounded for life. Semi-autobiographical, the heartwarming story reminds readers that everyone deserves a second chance―no matter where you live.
GRAFF, Lisa. Tangle of Knots. Philomel. 2013. ISBN 9780399255175. JLG Level: B : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5–7).
Lives often intertwine like a tangle of knots. Follow one line, and it crosses with the life of another. In a modern day world with a good dose of magic, almost everyone has a a special magical ability. Cady has an award-winning Talent for baking the perfect cake that is just right for someone. Others have Talents for spitting, walking on air, or knitting at an amazing speed. When a hot air balloon creates a hole in the Ashers’s apartment building, all of the characters, except Miss Malory who runs the Home for Lost Girls, move into the lost luggage emporium and the tangle of knots begins to unravel. Who would ever think that blue luggage, a woman who has lost her voice, and a Talent Thief could bind together such an unlikely group?
Told from the perspective of different characters, the chapters offer different points of view, and readers will be able to gather clues to a mystery that is revealed in the exciting conclusion.
URBAN, Linda. The Center of Everything. Houghton Harcourt. 2013. ISBN 9780547763484. JLG Level: B : Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5–7).
There is nothing easy about turning twelve, especially for Ruby Pepperdine. Still grieving from the loss of her grandmother, her efforts to right a wrong alters her whole world. Ruby becomes friends with Nero who seems to know everything; perhaps he can help her craft the perfect birthday wish. She neglects her self-absorbed best friend Lucy, who is wrapped up in a starring role in a school production of Hansel and Gretel. In an effort to save one relationship, she loses two friendships. The honor to read her essay about Captain Bunning provides her with an opportunity to fix everything. Can she take things back? Can she change the past or save the future?
During the course of a single day, readers learn about the events leading up to Bunning Day and the effects of Ruby’s obsession with her wish and how it impacts everyone around her.
For strategies about how to use these books and links to supportive sites, check out the Junior Library Guild blog, Shelf Life.
Junior Library Guild is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at www.JuniorLibraryGuild.com.
This article was featured in School Library Journal's Extra Helping enewsletter. Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to your inbox for free.