November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Funny, Action-Packed, Poignant | Middle Grade Series Update

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Series for the middle grade set are the backbone of any children’s library collection. By telling stories that are funny, scary, suspenseful, and challenging, they help kids fall in love with reading. These characters and the worlds they inhabit comprise the books that kept them coming back for more. Every year, hundreds of series are published for this age group, and it’s impossible to keep up with everything that’s being published. The continuing series here will make young people laugh, gasp, and possibly cry and include everything from graphic novels and realistic stories of friendships gone right or wrong to stories of anthropomorphic animals fighting for what’s right and tales of girl detectives kicking tush and taking names. Clear some space on your shelves for these cool continuations.

aaa HumphreyBirney, Betty G. Spring According to Humphrey. 160p. (Humphrey). Putnam. Jan. 2016. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780399257988.
Gr 1-4–Humphrey, the well-loved class hamster, is celebrating the return of spring along with the kids of Room 26. As the children prepare for the annual circus-themed Family Fun Night, Humphrey and fellow class pet Og the Frog witness the arrival of a group of tadpoles after an eventful weekend at Just-Joey’s house. Humphrey begins to think about his own family and soon realizes that family is not just the people you’re related to. Fans of Humphrey’s previous adventures will surely enjoy this outing. Humphrey’s childlike wonder and humor make this endearing character relatable to many young readers. Those who have not read the preceding books will have no problem following the story, as the main events and characters are summarized within the first chapter. Back matter includes “Humphrey’s Top Ten Tips for Understanding Families.”

aaa Almost a WinnerBurnham, Molly B. Almost a Winner. illus. by Trevor Spencer. 288p. (Teddy Mars: Bk. 2). ebook available. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks.. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062278135.
Gr 3-7–Teddy is obsessed with the Guinness Book of World Records and, in particular, breaking a world record with his two best friends. He’s already a world record holder (as told in the previous book in the series). When his class is broken up into groups for the upcoming inventions fair, his enthusiasm for world records spills over to his classmates, who decide to break a record themselves. Infighting among his classmates ensues, and once-stable friendships are threatened. Teddy does whatever he can to stop the arguing and help his friends achieve their goal. Those who enjoyed Teddy’s last story (Teddy Mars: Almost a World Record Breaker, 2015) will love this title. New readers will be able to hop on with no problem, as pertinent information is revealed throughout the story when necessary. Young readers with siblings will identify with Teddy’s realistic struggles with his younger brother and older sisters. Short chapters and the subject matter make this a perfect book for reluctant readers as well as those who enjoy a laugh. Here’s hoping for more Teddy Mars adventures!

aaa CalonitaCalonita, Jen. Charmed. 288p. (Fairy Tale Reform School: Bk. 2). ebook available. Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky. Mar. 2016. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781492604044.
Gr 4-7–The Fairy Tale Reform School is back in session with another adventure featuring the heroic pickpocket Gilly Cobbler. After stopping Alva, the wicked queen whose curse struck Sleeping Beauty, from taking over Enchantasia, Gilly and her friends find themselves back in another precarious situation. A mole has broken into the ranks of School and is helping Alva plot another scheme to take over the land. Gilly goes undercover as a Royal Lady in Waiting to uncover the mole and hopefully stop the attacks in time. Fans of Calonita’s previous book in the series (Flunked, 2015) will enjoy this continuation of the story. New readers will be caught up within the first few pages thanks to a blog scroll (“Happily Ever After Scrolls”) that recurs throughout the book. Tweens who are fans of fractured fairy tales like the “Whatever After” series by Sarah Mlynowski (Scholastic) will have no problem getting into this read.

aaa ChildChild, Lauren. Ruby Redfort: Feel the Fear. illus. by Lauren Child. 528p. (Ruby Redfort: Bk. 4). ebook available. HarperCollins. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763654702.
Gr 5 Up–Barely recovered from her previous adventure, 13-year-old super sleuth Ruby Redfort jumps back into action when an invisible thief commits a scandalous crime at the annual costume exhibit gala in Twinford. She uses her trusty code-cracking skills as well as a new found love of parkour to try to catch the kidnapper/thief. Feel the Fear picks up after Catch Your Death (HarperCollins, 2013) with some of the loose ends immediately tied up. New readers may find the first chapters confusing, as background information is not initially given and the pacing of the story is, at times, leisurely. Yet those who enjoy both Nancy Drew and James Bond as well as fans of the previous books will appreciate Redfort’s latest mystery. Noted mathematician Marcus du Sautoy provides the puzzles and codes Ruby cracks in the novel, making this a good choice for older STEM collections and teaching units. Back matter includes a brief introduction to basic parkour moves as well as a further explanation to a noted scientific test that factors into the story.

aaa GreenGreen, Tim. Home Run. 352p. (Baseball Great: Bk. 4). ebook available. HarperCollins. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062317117.
Gr 5 Up–Josh’s world has been turned upside down. After one of his baseball games, Josh’s father announces that he has quit coaching the team and will be moving to Florida for work. The absence of his father forces Josh and the rest of his family to move into a run-down apartment that’s a far cry from the house he grew up in. At the suggestion of his best friends, Josh enters a local home run derby where the winner gets a new house. Fans of Green’s previous works will recognize his familiar yet appealing mix of family issues and edge-of-your-seat sports thrills. Young readers coming on board for the first time will have no issues following the story, as it stands on its own. In all, a rousing and heartwarming story.

aaa GreenwaldGreenwald, Tommy. Pete Milano’s Guide to Being a Movie Star. illus. by Rebecca Roher. 256p. (Charlie Joe Jackson). Roaring Brook. Feb. 2016. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9781626721678.
Gr 4 Up–Pete Milano, a popular character from the series, literally gets his time in the spotlight. On the run after pulling a prank on one of his classmates, he gets discovered by a casting director looking to fill one of the starring roles in her new movie Sammy and the Princess. Complications ensue when Pete’s friends feel like they are not important to him anymore and the budding friendship with his famous costar puts a strain on his relationship with his girlfriend. Featuring many of the same characters from Greenwald’s previous titles, this book stands on its own. Relevant character background is provided, and kids will have no problem following along. Young readers will enjoy Pete’s humor and the various forms of storytelling (passages from the movie script are sprinkled throughout the text). The idea of a regular kid achieving something great will definitely appeal to readers.

aaa KochalkaKochalka, James. The Glorkian Warrior and the Mustache of Destiny. illus. by James Kochalka. 128p. (The Glorkian Warrior: Bk. 3). First Second. Mar. 2016. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781626720220.
Gr 4 Up–The Glorkian Warrior is back with another surreal graphic novel adventure that will take readers to the farthest reaches of the galaxy. His sidekick, Gonk, has amassed a group of friends who are desperate to become Junior-Junior Glorkian Warriors. After following the Glorkian Warrior all day, they all unwittingly stumble upon Quackaboodle The Space God. They accidentally unleash him out into the galaxy, where he starts trouble wherever he goes. No background information from the two previous books is given, nor is it necessary. This adventure stands alone, so new readers can join the fun without having to read the other titles (although they will most likely seek them out). Kochalka’s signature blend of bonkers storytelling and pencil, ink, and digital illustrations has its fans, and they will enjoy this entry in the bizarre yet endearing series. This is a great choice for reluctant readers who may want something a bit off the beaten path.

aaa LupicaLupica, Mike. The Extra Yard. 304p. (Home Team). ebook available. S. & S. Jan. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481410007.
Gr 5 Up–After successfully making the baseball team in The Only Game (S. & S., 2015), Teddy tries out for the football team in this continuation of Lupica’s series about a group of young kids in a small town. Making the football team would be a dream come true. However, the sudden appearance of his father, after a long absence, puts Teddy off of his game. With the help of his friends, Teddy strives to accomplish his goal. Lupica provides a brief synopsis of the events of the previous book within the first few pages so readers will all be on the same page. Teddy is a supporting character in The Only Game and takes center stage here. Fans of Lupica’s previous works will enjoy his trademark mix of family angst and engaging sports play, which is on fine display here.

aaa MabbittMabbitt, Will. Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City. illus. by Ross Collins. 304p. (Mabel Jones: Bk. 2). Viking. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780451471970.
Gr 4 Up–In the middle of the night, Mabel Jones’s baby sister is kidnapped by a nefarious creature using long spindly roots. When Mabel discovers her sister is missing, she goes on a quest to the Forbidden City to rescue her. Along the way, Mabel battles monsters and picks up a few creature friends. Fans of Mabbitt’s witty, butt-kicking, strong female character will enjoy spending time with her again. The narration harkens back to that of Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” and fans of that series will enjoy the snarky voice. Knowledge of the last book is not given and is not necessary to enjoy this story, though familiarity with Mabel’s adventures will enhance the experience. A cliffhanger ending will leave readers clamoring for the next book in this action-packed series.

aaa McKayMcKay, Laurie. Quest Maker. 352p. (Last Dragon Charmer: Bk. 2). ebook available. HarperCollins/Harper. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062308467.
Gr 5 Up–Prince Caden was magically sent to Asheville, NC, from the Great Realm under mysterious circumstances. Asheville is the residence of many of the Great Realm’s most evil villains, and they all conspire to take over both worlds. The vice principal of his school is a revered Elderdragon who both complicates Caden’s life as well as watches out for him and his friends. When Caden’s older brother, Jasan (the subject of a mysterious prophecy), shows up, it could spell trouble for everyone. McKay does a fine job of building both of Caden’s worlds and populates them with a diverse array of sinister and heroic characters. A recap of the previous volume (Villain Keeper, 2015) is given in the first chapter, although those who haven’t read it may still find themselves a bit lost in the first half of the book. Nonetheless, this is a fine continuation of a series that fantasy readers will enjoy. A cliffhanger ending leaves room for more adventures with Caden and his friends.

aaa O'DonnellO’Donnell, Liam. Tank & Fizz: The Case of the Battling Bots. illus. by Mike Deas. 176p. (Tank & Fizz: Bk. 2). ebook available. Orca. Feb. 2016. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781459808133.
Gr 3 Up–Tank & Fizz are young goblins that love to solve crime (think Sherlock Holmes and Watson as monsters). While investigating corruption at the annual Battle Bot Cup, a wicked villain named The Codex threatens to take over all of the technology in Rockfall Mountain. Through their investigatory skills (and a little bit of luck), Tank and Fizz do everything they can to stop The Codex and save their town. Comic book panels and splash pages are used with dramatic effect whenever there is action and adventure. The friendship between the two will be relatable to young readers. Rockfall Mountain’s focus on technology makes this a nice addition to STEM collections. Young readers will enjoy this story without having read the other installments in the series; a great blend of mystery and fantasy that will have kids clamoring for more.

aaa PaverPaver, Michelle. The Crocodile Tomb. 272p. (Gods and Warriors: Bk. 4). Dial. Jan. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780803738836.
Gr 5 Up–Hylas and Pirra are nearing the end of their journey to Egypt in the quest for the Dagger of Koronas, the only weapon against the mythic order of The Crows. Little do they know, Telamon has almost reached Egypt as well and he wants the dagger for different purposes. Now the race is on to see who will reach the dagger first and come out on top. Paver does a great job at integrating Egyptian myths seamlessly into the story and making it accessible to those who may not be familiar with them. This fourth entry in the series is an exciting read for those who have read the other books. Even though there is a bit of background for the last three novels included in the prologue, new readers may find themselves confused at times. Fans of Paver’s previous series as well as the three installments of this series will definitely want to pick this up.

aaa PotterPotter, David. Abe Lincoln and the Selfie That Saved the Union. 304p. (The Left Behinds). ebook available. Crown. Jan. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385390606; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780385390613.
Gr 4 Up–Mel, Bev, and Brandon are back with another time traveling adventure at the will of Professor Montcrieff and his 18 app. This time around, the kids (known as The Left Behinds) are transported back to the 1860s. Upon their arrival, they immediately meet First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln who mistakes one of them for her deceased son, Willie. Upon their arrival to the White House, they are dragged into helping stop a person from their time with interfering with the Battle of Gettysburg. Those who enjoy historical fiction as well as those who like a bit of fantasy in their reads will appreciate this outing. Because of the inclusion of a recap in the first chapter, those with no knowledge of the first book will have no problem hopping on this one. Expansive back matter, including an author’s note, websites, and age appropriate recommended reading, is a fine addition to this rollicking good time.

aaa SchweizerSchweizer, Chris. The Creeps: The Trolls Will Feast! illus. by Chris Schweizer. 128p. (The Creeps: Bk. 2). Abrams/Amulet. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781419718823; pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781419718830.
Gr 4 Up–Carol, Mitchell, Jarvis, and Rosario, better known as “The Creeps,” have a way of finding trouble no matter where they go. This time they encounter an invisible (to many) troll bent on eating everyone in Pumpkins County. All the members of The Creeps have their own unique talents and are well equipped in their fight against the monsters out to destroy their town. Along the way, they meet an grizzled old troll hunter who seeks revenge on the one troll that got away. The troll hunter helps gives the team the skills they need to hopefully get rid of this threat. Schweizer’s graphic novel series continues with even more humor and monster action than the previous installment. His comic illustrations are the perfect match for the tone of the story, and the small panels pack a punch. The diverse cast of characters and the pervading theme of embracing who you are, not what others want you to be, is something that many readers will be able to relate to. No prior knowledge of their last adventure is necessary to enjoy this exuberant entry. This is one of the better graphic novel series currently out there for young audiences.

aaa SkyeSkye, Obert. Lost and Found. illus. by Keith Thompson. 288p. (Witherwood Reform School: Bk. 2). Holt. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780805098808.
Gr 4 Up–Siblings Tobias and Charlotte are still trapped in the Witherwood Reform School and are struggling to free themselves from the mind control inflicted upon them in the prior novel. Along the way, Tobias breaks the cycle of mind control and does everything he can to rescue Charlotte from the dormitory she’s trapped in and get them out of the school unscathed. Readers who enjoy a bit of sarcasm with their adventure will eat this series up. Comparisons to Lemony Snicket are valid and make this a great read-alike to his many popular series. The events from Tobias and Charlotte’s previous venture are filled in when necessary, although new readers may want to start with book 1. This is a refreshing fantasy series filled with dark humor that sets it apart from others in the genre.

aaa Tashjian cropTashjian, Janet. Einstein the Class Hamster Saves the Library. illus. by Jake Tashjian. 192p. (Einstein The Class Hamster: Bk. 3). Holt. 2015. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9781627790611.Gr 3 Up–What would you do if the library in your school were scheduled to be closed due to budget cuts? Einstein the class hamster and the kids of Boerring Elementary spring into action to help save their beloved library from being closed. The mother and son writer/illustrator team return with another crowd-pleasing installment. Sadly, school libraries are often in danger of being shut down these days. This look at a very real problem will hopefully open students’ eyes and offer ways to help in the fight to keep libraries open (although the relative ease with which this is achieved is a bit unrealistic). New readers will have no problem following along with Einstein’s adventure. Kids will respond to the silly humor and child-friendly illustrations. Einstein’s game show interludes and “Einstein’s Tasty Tidbits” provide a lot of facts that are further explored in the back matter.

aaa talutti cropTatulli, Mark. Desmond Pucket and the Cloverfield Junior High Carnival of Horrors. illus. by Mark Tatulli. 240p. (Desmond Pucket: Bk. 3). AMP! Comics. Feb. 2016. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9781449466282;
pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781449474096.
Gr 3 Up–Desmond Pucket is obsessed with monsters, movies, and all things scary. He’s not looking forward to many things in his new year at school. The one thing keeping him motivated is the annual Cloverfield Junior High Carnival of Horrors, which will raise money for the school library (on the chopping block due to budget cuts). However, a new principal has taken over, and his first act is to cancel the Carnival of Horrors. Desmond and his friends dip into his bag of horror tricks to convince the principal to bring back the carnival and hopefully save the library. Relevant events from the two previous titles in the series are recapped, although this volume of the series stands on its own. The comic book interludes and spot illustrations throughout will appeal to those young readers who have already exhausted “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and “Big Nate.”

aaa TenNapelTenNapel, Doug. The Rise of Herk. illus. by Doug TenNapel. 208p. (Nnewts: Bk. 2). Scholastic/Graphix. Feb. 2016. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780545676526; pap. $10.99. ISBN 9780545676540; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780545925624.
Gr 4 Up–Herk and his sister Sissy are recovering from their battles with the Lizzarks and their continued fight to take over control of Amphibopolis. Just when they think they are safe, the Lizzarks launch another full blown attack on the city. Along the way, Sissy does research on their long-lost brother, who may aid the Lizzarks in destroying Amphibopolis. TenNapel’s signature art style is on full display here. His bold lines are contrasted with vast stretches of deep, dark colors to create the ominous space world. The action sequences are chock-full of monsters and explosions, making this a perfect choice for reluctant readers. New readers may have a difficult time following along, since there is little to no recap of the events of Escape from the Lizzarks (Scholastic, 2015). A cliffhanger leaves room for additional titles in the series.

aaa VelazquezVelasquez, Crystal. The Circle of Lies. 240p. (Hunters of Chaos: Bk. 2). ebook available. S. & S./Aladdin. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481424554.
Gr 4 Up–Ana, Shani, Doli, and Lin are four friends at Temple Academy who find out they are direct descendants of the Wildcats, a group of ancient shape-shifting warriors. After narrowly escaping the Brotherhood of Chaos and their leader Anubis in Hunters of Chaos (S. & S., 2015), they have to face continued threats to their safety. When the Wildcats are attacked in the school gym, Shani uses hacked information to save them and gets expelled from Temple Academy. Concurrently, Ana’s aunt and uncle go missing, sending the rest of the Wildcats to Mexico to find them and ultimately get more information on the Brotherhood. Each chapter alternates between Ana and Shani’s first-person narratives, giving the diverse cast of characters their own voices. The mythology of the world is quickly summarized within the first few pages, making it easy for new readers to jump on board. This series will appeal to those interested in mythology and readers of Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson” series.

aaa WhiteWhite, J.A. The Thickety: Well of Witches. illus. by Andrea Offermann. 512p. (The Thickety: Bk. 3). ebook available. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062257321.
Gr 5 Up–Tara and Kaff are on the tail end of their journey away from De’Noran to the world beyond. After reaching the mainland, they discover news that the Spider Queen has amassed an army of spell-casting witches to do her bidding and that their father is in terrible danger. The only person who can help save them and their father is an enemy from their past. Putting their previous history behind them, the siblings have to band together to help fight the evil that threatens them all. The adventure starts from the very beginning. The plot is packed with many exciting action sequences that will delight readers. Those new to the series will find this volume a difficult starting point, as there is little to no explanation of previous events. Fans of the series will delight in Tara and Kaff’s encounters with numerous characters from A Path Begins (2014) and The Whispering Trees (2015, both HarperCollins). The resolution is open-ended, leaving room for more adventures that readers will eagerly anticipate.

Christopher Lassen About Christopher Lassen

Christopher Lassen is the youth material selector for The New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for your list. I would appreciate any suggestions you may have for grades 5-8 readers who want urban, contemporary fiction. Not fantasy, not dystopian, not sports. I have Walter Dean Myers, Sharon Flake, Jaqueline Woodson, Nikki Grimes, Jason Reynolds, and Kwame Alexander but I am running out of other options. Thanks in advance!

    • The Bluford series is popular if you’re looking for urban fiction. It’s written for older students, (high school), and reluctant readers, but does appeal to some of my 7th and 8th graders. You might want to scan the individual descriptions to make sure they feel appropriate for your students.

    • Anything by Traci Jones. Rita Williams-Garcia–even though her award-winning MG trilogy is set in the late 60s/early 70s, I have never handed one to a Sharon Flake fan who did not love them and come back for more. Angela Johnson (Heaven, Bird) and Brenda Woods (Emako Blue, The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond). Be sure to read up on individual titles and check recommended age ranges to make sure they fit the maturity level of your students, as all these authors also write very edgy YA. Double Dutch and Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. If they love her, you can also steer them toward her historical titles–Fire from the Rock and Stella by Starlight are both suitable for middle school. For struggling readers, try the Claudia and Monica series.