February 5, 2016

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Mermaids, Zombie Hamsters, a Young Foodie & Other New Middle Grade Books | Grades 5-8 Fiction Reviews

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redstarGraff, Lisa. Absolutely Almost. 304p. Philomel. Jun. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399164057; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780698158535. LC 2013023620.

Gr 4-6 –Albie, an only child living in New York City, has learning difficulties. No matter how hard he tries to give the correct change to the takeout delivery guy, or get all his spelling words correct, he inevitably fails to get it right. When readers meet the fifth-grader, he’s just left his fancy private school and is about to be the new kid at public school. His dad is mostly absent and forgetful, except when demanding that Albie try harder. His mom tells him that Dav Pilkey’s “Captain Underpants” (Scholastic) is for babies, and gives him Esther Forbes’s Johnny Tremain instead. His exacting Korean grandfather predicts that he will end up in a ditch. At school, despite some sympathetic teachers, he is bullied and teased. His only friend is Betsy, reserved and bullied herself. Things begin to change when Albie gets a new babysitter. Calista is an artist and definitely unusual: she makes a cover for Albie’s Captain Underpants that says “Johnny Tremain.” She takes him for donuts and to art exhibits and, most importantly, she likes him for who he is. Albie’s just-believable naiveté leads him into social difficulties as he is given an opportunity to be one of the “cool” kids, even though this entails abandoning his friendship with Betsy. Despite the fact that Graff is scrupulously honest in refusing to provide a conveniently happy ending, Albie comes through significant emotional hardship to a genuine sense of self-worth. Albie himself would find this book inviting at first glance: short chapters, an accessible sans serif font, and plenty of white space, and even his mom might think it acceptable for a fifth grader.–Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City

redstarHolczer, Tracy. The Secret Hum of a Daisy. 320p. Putnam. May 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399163937; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780698158610.

Gr 6-8 –Holczer writes about the common theme of loss, but creates quite an uncommon character who must deal with the sudden death of her mother, and moving in with a grandmother she has never met. Grace’s mother leads them on a nomadic life of moving from one place to another, always searching for just the right home, until her untimely death. Grace must then find a way to get to know and forgive her grandmother who has always been a stranger in her life. She soon discovers that her mother has left her one more treasure hunt. The clues take her deep inside her family’s past and unlock memories that finally give her the stability and roots she has always been craving. Holczer expertly crafts the characters and dialogue to create a story readers will identify with, and thoroughly enjoy. The undercurrent theme of loss is balanced well with humor and an authentic protagonist. More than simply a book about grief and the death of a parent, Grace’s story is about the search for identity. An essential purchase for middle-grade collections.–April Sanders, Spring Hill College, Mobile, AL

redstarWILES, Deborah. Revolution. 544p. (The Sixties Trilogy: Bk. 2). Scholastic. May 2014. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780545106078.

Gr 5-8 –In Wiles’s second installment of the trilogy, readers are offered two alternate viewpoints from very different worlds within the same Greenwood, Mississippi town during the tumultuous Freedom Summer of 1964. Sunny, a 12-year-old white girl, is worried about reports of “invaders” descending upon the sleepy Southern enclave and causing trouble. Meanwhile, Raymond, a black boy from Baptist Town (known among the white citizens as “Colored Town”), is becoming increasingly aware of all the places (especially the public pool and Leflore’s theater) he is barred from attending due to Jim Crow laws. As Sunny’s worldview is suddenly expanded as she begins to learn more about the sinister underbelly of her seemingly perfect town, her story intersects with Raymond’s. Among the cadre of brave young volunteers working to register black Mississippians to vote—a mix of white and black members of various civil rights associations—is Jo Ellen, the older sister from Countdown (Scholastic, 2010). As in the first book, song lyrics, biblical verses, photographs, speeches, essays, and other ephemera immerse readers in one of the most important—and dangerous—moments during the Civil Rights Movement. While Sunny’s experiences receive a slightly deeper focus than Raymond’s, readers are offered a window into each community and will see both characters change and grow over the course of the summer. Inclusion of primary source materials, including the text of a real and vile pamphlet created by KKK members, does not shy away from the reality and hurtful language used by bigots during this time period. For those looking to extend the story with a full-sensory experience, the author has compiled YouTube clips of each song referenced in the book on a Pinterest board ( With elements of family drama and coming-of-age themes that mirror the larger sociopolitical backdrop, Revolution is a book that lingers long after the last page.–Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

Graphic novels are now reviewed in every issue.
Where applicable, they appear at the bottom of the grade level section.

The following titles are reviewed in this month's print issue:

Agosín, Marjorie. I Lived on Butterfly Hill. tr. from Spanish by E. M. O’Connor. illus. by Lee White. 464p. S. & S./Atheneum. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781416953449; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781442494763.

Anderson, John David. Minion. 288p. HarperCollins/Walden Pond. Jul. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062133113; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780062133137.

Armstrong, K. L. & M. A. Marr. Odin’s Raven. 352p. (The Blackwell Pages: Bk. 2). Little, Brown. May 2014. Tr $17. ISBN 9780316204989; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316255080. LC 2013018519.

Bacon, Lee. The Dominion Key. illus. by Brandon Dorman. 256p. (Joshua Dread: Bk. 3). Delacorte. May 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385743822; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780375991301; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780385371278.

Bodeen, S. A. Shipwreck Island. 192p. Feiwel & Friends. Jul. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250027771.

Callaghan, Cindy. Lucky Me. 208p. S. & S./Aladdin. Jul. 2014. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9781442489509; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9781442489516.

Caroll, Robin. Samantha Sanderson: At the Movies. 272p. Bk. 1. pap. ISBN 9780310742456.

––––. Samantha Sanderson: On the Scene. 264p. Bk. 2. pap. ISBN 9780310742470.

ea vol: (Faithgirlz!). Zonderkidz. May 2014. $8.99.

Chapman, Lara. The XYZs of Being Wicked. 256p. S. & S./Aladdin. Jul. 2014. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9781481401074; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9781481401098.

Dairman, Tara. All Four Stars. 288p. Putnam. Jul. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399162527; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781101600887. LC 2013026297.

DE GOLDI, Kate. The ACB with Honora Lee. illus. by Gregory O’Brien. 128p. Tundra. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781770497221; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781770497238. LC 2013943839.

Donnelly, Jennifer. Deep Blue. 336p. (Waterfire Saga: Bk. 1). Disney-Hyperion. May 2014. RTE $17.99. ISBN 9781423133162; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781484701850.

Ellis, Ann Dee. The End or Something Like That. 352p. Dial. May 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780803737396; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781101635421.

Ellis, M. Henderson. Petra K and the Blackhearts. 208p. Young Europe. 2014. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9780985062385; ebk. $11.99. ISBN 9780985062392.

Ellis, Sarah. Outside In. 208p. House of Anansi/Groundwood. May 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781554983674; ebk. $14.95. ISBN 9781554983698.

Eulburg, Elizabeth. Better Off Friends. 276p. ebook available. Scholastic/Point. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545551458. LC 2013019024.

Finneyfrock, Karen. Starbird Murphy and the World Outside. 384p. Viking. Jun. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780670012763. LC 2013027007.

Finn, K. C. The Mind’s Eye. 348p. (Synsk: Bk. 1). Clean Teen. 2014. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9781940534381.

George, Jean Craighead. Ice Whale. 192p. diag. maps. Dial. May 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780803737457.

Golden, Che. The Feral Child. 256p. glossary. Quercus Kids. Jun. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781623651206; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9781623651213. LC 2013913395.

Grove, S. E. The Glass Sentence. 512p. Viking. Jun. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780670785025.

Hapka, Catherine. Maddie’s Dream. 208p. (Marguerite Henry’s Ponies of Chincoteague: Bk. 1). S. & S./Aladdin. Jul. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481403375; pap. $5.99. ISBN 9781481403368; ebk. $5.99. ISBN 9781481403382.

Harrington, Karen. Courage for Beginners. 304p. Little, Brown. Aug. 2014. Tr $17. ISBN 9780316210485; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316210478.

Hay, Sam. Return of the Hungry Hamster. illus. by Simon Cooper. 112p. (Undead Pets: Bk. 1). Grosset & Dunlap. Aug. 2014. pap. $5.99. ISBN 9780448477954; ebk. $5.99. ISBN 9780698181359.

Hilmo, Tess. Skies Like These. 240p. ebook available. Farrar. Jul. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780374369989. LC 2013033675.

Howe, James. Also Known as Elvis. 288p. (The Misfits). S. & S./Atheneum. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442445109; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442445123. LC 2013015974.

Johnson, Peter. The Life and Times of Benny Alvarez. 224p. HarperCollins. Jun. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062215963; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780062215987.

Jones, Kari. So Much for Democracy. 184p. ebook available. Orca. 2014. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781459804814. LC 2013954146.

Keplinger, Kody. The Swift Boys & Me. 272p. Scholastic. May 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545562003; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545562027. LC 2013034049.

Kipling, Rudyard. Just So Stories: For Little Children. Vol. 2. illus. by Ian Wallace. 64p. House of Anansi/Groundwood. 2014. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781554982134; ebk. $16.95. ISBN 9781554982158.

Kloepfer, John. Galaxy’s Most Wanted. illus. by Nick Edwards. 224p. HarperCollins. Aug. 2014. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780062231017; ebk. $8.99. ISBN 9780062231031.

Kumin, Maxine. Lizzie! illus. by Elliott Gilbert. 160p. ebook available. Seven Stories. 2014. Tr $21.95. ISBN 9781609805180. LC 2013025662.

Lee, Jenny. Elvis and the Underdogs: Secrets, Secret Service, and Room Service. illus. by Kelly Light. 352p. (Elvis and the Underdogs). HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray. Jun. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062235565; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780062235589.

Little, Kimberly Griffiths. The Time of the Fireflies. 368p. Scholastic. Jul. 2014. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780545165631; ebk. $18.99. ISBN 9780545634069. LC 2013027396.

McCreely, Havelock. My Zombie Hamster. 208p. Egmont USA. Jul. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781606844915; ebk. $15.99. ISBN 9781606844922.

McQuerry, Maureen Doyle. Beyond the Door. 375p. (Time Out of Time: Bk. 1). Abrams/Amulet. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781419710162. LC 2013025513.

Mezrich, Ben. Bringing Down the Mouse. 336p. S. & S. Jul. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442496262; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442496323. LC 2013027538.

Miller, Jeff. The Nerdy Dozen. 304p. HarperCollins. Jun. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062272621; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780062272645.

Mould, Chris. Pirates ‘n’ Pistols: Ten Swashbuckling Pirate Tales. illus. by Chris Mould. 96p. Trafalgar Square. May 2014. Tr $11.99. ISBN 9780340999356.

Moulton, Erin E. Chasing the Milky Way. 288p. Philomel. Jun. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399164491.

Murdock, Kita Helmetag. Future Flash. 208p. Sky Pony. Jun. 2014. Tr $12.95. ISBN 9781628738223. LC 2013043263.

Paulsen, Gary. Family Ties. 144p. Random/Wendy Lamb Bks. Jul. 2014. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780385373807; lib. ed. $15.99. ISBN 9780385373814; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780385373821. LC 2013025829.

Ruby, Lois. The Doll Graveyard. 256p. (Hauntings). Scholastic. Jun. 2014. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780545617864; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9780545620659.

Russell, Christine & Christopher Russell. The Warrior Sheep Go Jurassic. 224p. Egmont UK/Jelly Pie. May 2014. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781405267182; ebk. $7.75. ISBN 9781780313382.

Schreiber, Joe. Game Over, Pete Watson. illus. by Andy Rash. 224p. Houghton Harcourt. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544157569; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780544306493. LC 2013024335.

Shine, Joe. I Become Shadow. 304p. Soho Teen. Jun. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781616953584; ebk. $17.99. ISBN 9781616953591.

Shoemaker, Tim. Below the Surface. 416p. (A Code of Silence Novel). ebook available. Zonderkidz. 2014. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780310735014.

Smith, Greg Leitich. Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn. illus. by Andrew Arnold. 224p. Roaring Brook. Jun. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781596438354; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781626720954.

Snicket, Lemony. File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents. illus. by Seth. 272p. (All the Wrong Questions: Bk. 2.5) Little, Brown. 2014. Tr $12. ISBN 9780316284035.

Spinelli, Eileen. Another Day As Emily. illus. by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. 256p. Knopf. May 2014. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780449809877; lib. ed. $15.99. ISBN 9780449809884; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780449809907. LC 2012043105.

Steinkellner, Teddy. Trash Can Nights. 432p. ebook available. Disney-Hyperion. Jul. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781423169239.

Van Vleet, Carmella. Eliza Bing is (Not) a Big, Fat Quitter. 176p. ebook available. glossary. Holiday House. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780823429448. LC 2013015279.

Vernick, Audrey. Screaming at the Ump. 272p. Clarion. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544252080; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780544306691.

Vigilante, Danette. Saving Baby Doe. 240p. Putnam. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399251603.

Watson, Jude. Loot: How to Steal a Fortune. 272p. Scholastic. Jun. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545468022; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545633956.

White, Kiersten. In the Shadows. illus. by Jim Di Bartolo. 384p. Scholastic. 2014. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9780545561440; ebk. $21.99. ISBN 9780545561457.

Williams, Maiya. Middle-School Cool. illus. by Karl Edwards. 240p. Delacorte. 2014. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780385743495; lib. ed. $15.99. ISBN 9780375991158; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780449816141.

Wood, Karen. Diamond Spirit. 288p. (Diamond Spirit: Bk. 1). Allen & Unwin. 2014. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781742373157.

Wooding, Chris. Silver. 313p. ebook available. Scholastic. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545603928.


Graphic Novels

Baltazar, Art & Franco Aureliani. Hal Versus Atrocitus. illus. by Dario Brizuela. 32p. (Green Lantern: The Animated Series). glossary. Stone Arch. 2014. lib. ed. $21.27. ISBN 9781434264817.

Chantler, Scott. The King’s Dragon. illus. by Scott Chantler. 112p. (Three Thieves: Bk. 4). Kids Can. 2014. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781554537785; pap. $8.95. ISBN 9781554537792.

Faulkner, Matt. Gaijin: American Prisoner of War. illus. by Matt Faulkner. 144p. Disney-Hyperion. 2014. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781423137351; ebk. $11.99. ISBN 9781484712139. LC 2013029795.

Gownley, Jimmy. The Dumbest Idea Ever. 240p. ebook available. Scholastic/Graphix. 2014. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780545453462; pap. $11.99. ISBN 9780545453479. LC 2013939128.

Guibert, Emmanuel. Happy as a Pig. tr. from French by Joe Johnson. illus. by Marc Boutavant. 124p. (Ariol: Vol. 3). Papercutz. 2013. lib. ed. $24.50. ISBN 9780606323109; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781597074872; ebk. $8.99. ISBN 9781597079259.

Hatke, Ben. The Return of Zita the Spacegirl. illus. by Ben Hatke. 240p. (Zita the Spacegirl: Vol. 3). First Second. May 2014. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781626720589; lib. ed. $24.50. ISBN 9780606355209; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781596438767.

Hugo, Victor. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. retold by Michael Ford. ISBN 9781908973900; ISBN 9781905638000.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. Kidnapped. retold by Fiona Macdonald. ISBN 9781908973870; ISBN 9781905087112.

Verne, Jules. Journey to the Center of the Earth. retold by Fiona Macdonald. ISBN 9781908973863; ISBN 9781905087105.

ea vol: illus. by Penko Gelev. 48p. (Graphic Classics Series). chron. further reading. index. maps. notes. websites. Book House. 2014. lib. ed. $35.65. pap. $8.95.

Nichols, Travis. My Hero? illus. by Alberto Cerriteno, et al. 80p. (Uglydoll: Bk. 4). Viz Media. 2014. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781421557250; ebk. $4.99. ISBN 9781421576367.

This article was published in School Library Journal's May 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.