March comes in like a lion, offering a strong selection of brand new middle grade titles perfect for readers in grades four through six. Looking for slightly more sophisticated reads for middle schoolers in grades six to eight? Check out our list of new YA Middle School titles publishing in this month.
APPELT, Kathi & Alison McGhee. Maybe a Fox. 272p. ebook available. S. & S./Atheneum. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442482425.
Gr 4-6–Twelve-year-old Sylvie, the older of the two Sherman sisters, is the runner, the fast, impetuous one. A year younger, Jules is a rock collector who takes her time to think things through. The morning of the last snowfall of the season in rural Vermont, Jules and Sylvie build a miniature snow family before getting ready for school. Sylvie wants to be fast, “so fast that…” but she never finishes that sentence, and Jules isn’t sure why her sister is so focused on speed. After playing in the snow, Sylvie darts off into the woods to throw a wishing rock into the Slip—and that’s the last time anyone sees her. At that moment, a fox kit is born. One of a litter of three, this kit is a “kennen,” a being that has an understanding that others do not possess and a destiny that it cannot escape. It’s tied to Jules and to Sylvie. Although Sylvie’s body is not found, everyone knows she drowned in the river and is gone. Jules thinks of it as “the After Sylvie” time, and she and her father grieve together, struggling to cobble together some hope for the future. There are some heavy elements in this beautifully written middle grade novel: the death of Sylvie and Jules’s mother several years before the story begins, the devastating disappearance/death of Sylvie, and the grieving of a neighbor who was deployed with his best friend to Afghanistan. But despite these sad events, the descriptions of rural Vermont, the sense of caring within Jules’s community, and the relationship between the two girls and their father make for a book that is both raw and hopeful and one that readers won’t soon forget. Through a dual narrative—one from Jules, the other from the “kennen” fox kit—the authors convey an understanding that grief is a journey and that a person can, even after terrible loss, feel the warm sun, smile once again, and make wishes for the future. VERDICT Highly recommended for all middle grade collections.–Kathy Kirchoefer, Henderson County Public Library, NC
CONNOR, Leslie. All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook. 400p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062333469.
Gr 5-7–Eleven-year-old Perry’s home life is like that of most kids his age: morning ritual, school, dinner with his mom, and games with his extended family. Unlike other kids, however, Perry lives at the Blue River Co-Ed Correctional Facility, where he’s stayed since birth with his mother, Jessica. Nearing the end of her sentence, Jessica is up for parole, and she and Perry are eager to start a new life on the outside. Opposing Jessica’s parole is the county’s ambitious district attorney, Tom VanLeer, stepfather of Perry’s best friend. VanLeer is outraged that a child was raised in a prison and demands that Perry live with the VanLeers while the case is sorted out. Perry knows he has traded a prison that feels like home for a home that feels like a prison. He resolves to reunite with his mother and have her appeal granted. Connor subtly conveys Perry’s restrained anger over being torn from his Blue River family (for instance, the boy refers to objects in his foster home as “the VanLeer closet” or “a VanLeer towel”). Perry is a memorable protagonist whose unusual upbringing gives him an understanding of and faith in human nature that brings out the best in everyone around him. He’s a perfect foil for the superficial morality of VanLeer, who is no match for Perry’s integrity when the boy confronts the adult on his duplicity, declaring, “Your word is no good.” Rich characterizations give the novel its big heart: Jessica, Big Ed, and the other Blue River inmates are nuanced, vivid characters whose stories of perseverance after tragedy embody the novel’s themes of redemption, hope, and community. VERDICT This beautifully written work will send readers’ spirits soaring.–Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY
DOOLEY, Sarah. Free Verse. 352p. Putnam. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399165030.
Gr 5-7–The West Virginia coal mining town of Caboose seems to be to blame for the mounting losses of everyone Sasha loves. First her mother walks out and doesn’t come back. Then her father dies in a mining accident. And finally her caretaker older brother Michael dies while fighting a fire. Angry and los t, the seventh grader initially shuts down everyone around her. Her journey through grief is made possible by a certain resilience of those around her and her willingness to see the neighbor kid Mikey, a distant relative, as a friend. That opening allows other friends to appear, and she soon joins a poetry club where she discovers the healing power of putting her feelings and ideas into words. Ostensibly motivated by a scholarship contest, Sasha is not really going to be immune to pain in the future, but she’s finding a way to cope. The changes in her life, the anguish she feels, and her journey forward are expertly portrayed through Dooley’s use of first-person narration, which is sensitive and gentle without being soft or sentimental. The poetry is wonderful and feels authentic to Sasha’s years without being unduly adult. Various verse forms are explored, including haiku, cinquain, and quatrain. VERDICT What could have been a mushy tearjerker resonates with emotional authenticity in Dooley’s deft hands; an excellent purchase for upper elementary and middle school collections.–Carol A. Edwards, Formerly at Denver Public Library, CO
KELLY, Erin Entrada. The Land of Forgotten Girls. 304p. HarperCollins/Greenwillow.Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062238641.
Gr 3-6–Soledad and Ming, two sisters from the Philippines, live in Louisiana with their evil stepmother, Vea. All Sol and Ming have is each other and their stories. Both girls inherited a lively imagination from their mother, Mei-Mei. When she was alive, Mei-Mei wove enthralling tales about her magical sister, Jove, who traveled around the world. The girls cling to tales of Auntie Jove as a hope of escape while living in a dreary apartment with miserable Vea. Sol worries for her younger sister as Ming begins to believe Auntie Jove is a reality, blurring the lines between fact and fiction. Can Sol save her sister from the depression caused by her own stories, or have they done irreparable damage? Is there a way for Sol, Ming, and Vea to understand one another and be happy in their own reality? Readers will become engrossed in the enchanting plot propelled by delightful narration. This book will appeal to a broad array of readers, as it has a little bit of everything—fantasy, realism, sisterhood, friendship, suspense, and humor. VERDICT A charming and affecting novel about sisterhood, the magic of imagination, and perseverance.–Tiffany Davis, Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh, NY
ANGLEBERGER, Tom. Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Stripmall. illus. by Tom Angleberger. 224p. Marvel. Mar. 2016. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9781484714522.
Gr 5 Up–“Origami Yoda” series (Abrams) author Angleberger presents a silly tale starring two popular Marvel comic heroes. This slapstick romp is full of potty humor and gags that middle schoolers will love. The book opens as Rocket and Groot become shipwrecked after battling a swarm of giant space piranhas. The only thing that they have left is an artificially intelligent tape dispenser named Veronica, who transcribes their adventures in the form of captain’s logs. Veronica also has a Doodle app so the heroes can draw pictures to accompany the text. Desperate to find food, water, and shelter, they land on an unchartered planet full of strip malls. With a succession of scuffles, they find themselves encountering hungry, violent toilets, killer robots, dangerous washing machines with chain-saw arms, sewage monsters, and fantastic homicidal aliens. Readers will be amused by the Guardians of the Nacho Cheeze–themed restaurant. Black-and-white pictures in cartoon style accompany the story. Graphic novel traditionalists may have a hard time with the large amount of text, but fans of both Marvel and funny illustrated novels will be pleased to know that two follow-up installments are planned. VERDICT Recommended for kids who enjoy highly illustrated novels, laugh-out-loud comics, and extension stories from the Marvel universe.–Lisa Gieskes, Richland County Public Library, Columbia, SC
ARROYO, Raymond. Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls. illus. by Antonio Javier Caparo. 336p. ebook available. Crown. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780553539592; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780553539608.
Gr 4-7–Will Wilder sees shadows that seem to be alive as they move around him. Many doctors have made attempts to explain them away as fatigue, but soon these shadows begin to move against the town of Perilous Falls. When a bet made at his younger brother’s birthday party sets events in motion that begin to fulfill an ancient prophecy, it is up to Will, along with his friends and his tough (and oddly dangerous) Great Aunt Lucille, to stop the dark forces advancing against his small town. Following in his great-grandfather’s footsteps, Will sets out against the rising evil with his newfound ability to combat the darkness that only he can face. Caparo’s illustrations dot the text and give added detail to the setting. Though the plot is somewhat predictable, there is still enough action to keep the pages turning. VERDICT Fans of Indiana Jones and Percy Jackson will likely find the first installment of this new adventure series enjoyable.–Wayne R. Cherry Jr., First Baptist Academy Library, Houston
BAUER, Joan. Soar. 304p. Viking. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780451470348.
Gr 4-6–Sports, friendship, tragedy, and a love connection are all wrapped up in one heartwarming, page-turning story. Jeremiah lives and breathes baseball and wants nothing more than to be a professional player, but when he learns that he suffers from a severe heart condition, his dreams are put on hold. Soon after he and his single father move to a town that is something of a baseball capital, the entire community is shaken by the death of a beloved school baseball player—and a town scandal that is revealed in the aftermath. Jeremiah finds himself coaching and bringing baseball back to the local middle school and ends up motivating the entire town. When he and his father are faced with having to leave their new town behind, Jeremiah has to deal with the possibility of also leaving his heart in the very place that helped to make it stronger. This coming-of-age tale features a boy who is courageous and witty; readers—baseball fans or otherwise—will cheer on Jeremiah and this team. VERDICT The latest middle grade novel from this award-winning author is triumphant and moving.–Nikitia Wilson, Convent of the Sacred Heart School Library, New York City
BEMIS, John Claude. Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince. 320p. Disney-Hyperion. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781484707272.
Gr 4-7–Flying lions, fiery salamanders, chimera, sylphs, gnomes, men with wings, and an enormous sea monster all play roles in this fantastical retelling of Pinocchio. Pinocchio, a wooden automaton, has been secretly sent by the immortal ruler of the magical kingdom of Abaton, Prester John, now imprisoned in the Venetian Empire, to serve the alchemist Geppetto Gazza. For failing to deliver the Ancientmost Pearl, source of immortality, Geppetto is on the run from the doge of Venice, who has murdered Geppetto’s wife and son. Fleeing with Pinocchio and the musical cricket, Maestro, Geppetto realizes he must return to Venice to rescue Prester John, even as he and Pinocchio are recognizing that the automaton is turning into a real boy. But before they can get too far, Pinocchio is abducted and forced to perform in the Grand Marionette Theater, where his “seven league boots” literally raise him to stardom as the Magpie. With the help of the chimera Wiq, the sylph Princess Lazuli, and Mezmer, a warrior fox, he escapes and begins a perilous journey to rescue Geppetto and Prester John and to find a home in Abaton. Bemis has created an alternative world rich in fantastical detail with a touch of steampunk, filled it with multiple characters both human and otherwise, and devised a complex, nonstop action-filled plot that may challenge and strain credulity in all but the most devoted high fantasy readers. A glossary extends the story, and a sequel is planned. VERDICT A good choice for collections where high fantasy is popular.–Marie Orlando, formerly at Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY
BRUMBACH, Andrew. The Eye of Midnight. 256p. ebook available. Delacorte. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385744614; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780375991769.
Gr 4-6–Twelve-year-old cousins, sent away by their parents to the Jersey Shore during the summer of 1929, find themselves alone in their grandfather’s huge, seemingly boring mansion. Though the novel’s scenery, dress, and vocabulary are all historically accurate, the plot takes an adventurous and mysterious turn into the fantastical. With the ring of the doorbell and delivery of a message, boredom disappears for straitlaced Maxine (“M”) and trouble-making Will as they are whisked away by their secretive grandfather Colonel Battersea to New York City, where he is suddenly kidnapped from the train station. They find themselves alone, again, this time in the streets of an unknown city following the instructions of an enigmatic telegram. Joining ranks with Nura, a Turkish girl tasked with delivering the powerful Eye of Midnight to Colonel Battersea (and, unbeknownst to them, their cousin), the children find themselves captured by gangsters and escaping to the literal underbelly of the city to face the evil Rafiq, a member of the Hashashin, an organization of killers who want to take over the world. In a desperate and brave attempt, the children must save their grandfather and the Eye of Midnight, though the consequences may be grave. The adventure is not complete by book’s end, and the scene is set for another installment to take place across the sea. Reminiscent of “Indiana Jones” films, with the dapper Colonel Battersea being more than he seems and evil secret societies pursuing a powerful historical object, this danger-filled novel offers fast-paced action. In addition, M and Will grow as characters as they find out what they are capable of and the part they play in their family’s history. Readers of R.L. LaFevers’s “Theodosia Throckmorton” series (HMH) as well as lovers of the Rick Riordan books will enjoy this. VERDICT A well-crafted adventure with a dash of magic that gives a taste of 1920s New York.–Clare A. Dombrowski, Amesbury Public Library, MA
BROWN, Gavin. Josh Baxter Levels Up. 192p. Scholastic. Mar. 2016. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780545772945; ebk. $12.99. ISBN 9780545772952.
Gr 4-7–Replete with gaming metaphors, the otherwise typical plot of a boy grappling with challenges at home and at school is given fresh appeal. Josh has had to move and attend three different schools within two years of losing his father. He relies on his favorite video games to distract him from real-life difficulties. But things seem to take a turn for the worse when Josh starts at a new middle school, becomes the target of a bully, and has his treasured video game collection withheld due to sinking grades. Josh realizes that he needs to take the strategies learned in his games and apply them in life: he evaluates what the heroes of his games would do and makes a plan to “level up.” Each chapter ends with a video game–style update of the protagonist’s level, health, lives, and new skills unlocked. Readers will be engaged in this likable lead’s quest to solidify burgeoning friendships via a school video game decathlon. Secondary peer characters of both genders and diverse backgrounds add texture. Josh’s mother and teachers are supportive secondary characters, demonstrating positive relationships between youths and adults. As a video game designer, the author understands the games in detail and what they mean to enthusiasts, rendering the gaming analogies relatable to the intended audience. VERDICT Recommended as an enticing addition, especially for middle school gamers and reluctant readers.–Suzanne LaPierre, Fairfax County Public Library, Burke, VA
BYRNE, Michael. Lottery Boy. 304p. ebook available. Candlewick. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763679965.
Gr 5-8–An intriguing tale of survival and perseverance that will appeal to fans of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet and Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Magee. Twelve-year-old Bully lost his mum to cancer and was never accepted by her live-in boyfriend, Phil. Taking only his loyal canine companion, Jack, Bully would rather be homeless than share an apartment with Phil, his new girlfriend, his stepsister Cortnie, and the new baby. Bully learns the ways of the streets quickly. He forages for food through dumpsters or steals. The glimpses of the urban British streets have a Dickensian vibe. The last connection he has to his mum is a birthday card with her recorded voice. One day, he discovers a lottery ticket that he had forgotten about, which just happens to contain the winning numbers for a huge jackpot. Unfortunately, Bully makes the poor decision to tell one of his fellow homeless friends about his good fortune. This leads to a harrowing chase through the streets of gritty London with potentially devastating results. Bully isn’t always a likable character. He has a selfish outlook on life, though readers will come to appreciate that this is out of necessity and for survival. Several poignant memories will strike emotional chords, and kids will develop a clearer understanding of the plight of the homeless through the eyes of Bully. His attempts to survive on the streets are hard to comprehend but very realistic. His efforts to reach out to others are clumsy yet touching. VERDICT A stirring, adrenaline-laced tale of endurance that will resonate with young bibliophiles.–Julie Shatterly, W. A. Bess Elementary School, Gastonia, NC
CARTER, Caela. My Life with the Liars. 288p. ebook available. HarperCollins. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062385710.
Gr 5-8–Zylynn is transported from the compound of a religious cult, the only home she has ever known, and taken to an unfamiliar place; she is being cast out to live in the darkness among the liars and the evil people. Zylynn presumes that she is being punished for a small transgression, “the abomination,” and to test her faith before her 13th-year ceremony. As days go by, readers learn about Zylynn’s former life at the compound through her behaviors in this new and strange house. To Zylynn, food is unbelievably abundant—how can one person be allowed two slices of bacon and strawberries? She is perplexed by hugs the mother gives the other children, as she has limited memories of being hugged or comforted. The protagonist eventually sees the good in loving contact and likes having enough to eat, but she is conflicted by the beliefs she has been taught. Slowly, she begins to remember things from long ago that confuse her and start to make her question her life in the compound. As Zylynn starts to pull at the threads of her memories, more of her story unfolds and readers will be transfixed. Zylynn is well portrayed as a devout but confused young girl. VERDICT Though the resolution feels just a bit too pat, Carter takes readers on a journey with Zylynn to uncover her past and reconcile it with her future in this thought-provoking and highly discussible novel.–Patricia Feriano, Montgomery County Public Schools, MD
CATANESE, P.W. Donny’s Inferno. 320p. ebook available. S. & S./Aladdin. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481438001.
Gr 4-6–Twelve-year-old Donny is having a seriously bad day; he has discovered that his father is a hit man, decides to run away from home but becomes trapped in a burning building, and is rescued by Angela, an archdemon from hell…where he now works and lives. One hundred years earlier, Lucifer disappeared from the underworld, leaving the demons, imps, and other residents to run the daily operations. Angela is part of the Great Reform, a group that believes that the souls of the underworld should no longer be tormented in the “Pit of Fire” for eternity but should be dispatched to the “Caverns of Woe” to relive the emotional anguish they caused while living. The Great Reform has created two warring factions with different ideologies on the treatment of these souls, and these factions are tearing the underworld apart. In the beginning of the book, Donny feels like a secondary character who is rarely part of the action; he is constantly being given tours on the operation of the underworld and waiting for Angela to come home to move the story line forward. The plot is slow moving, and much of the beginning is spent on world-building. In the middle, the action picks up substantially with Donny capturing an escaped demon, solving a riddle that saves the lives of many, and capturing the bad guy. VERDICT This novel will appeal to readers of quirky fantasy/adventure who are tenacious enough to stick with the slow beginning.–Lisa Nabel, Dayton Metro Library, OH
CHERRY, Alison. Classy Crooks Club. 336p. S. & S./Aladdin. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481446372.
Gr 4-7–A summer month staying with her grandmother, who fusses about correct forks and thinks that sewing—but not soccer, and definitely not skateboarding—is a proper activity for a young lady doesn’t sound like a lot of fun for 12-year-old AJ. But when her grandmother’s bridge club turns out to actually be a top-secret thieving operation, AJ finds that she loves the excitement and adventure of joining their heists, especially when they rescue a pet bird from its neglectful owner. While AJ practices lock-picking and sneaking around in the dark, her soccer team provides dramas of its own: in an effort to impress a wealthy popular girl, AJ may have alienated her longtime best friend. Humor abounds throughout, and a cute college-age chauffeur adds a bit of tween-crush romance (Stanley has a girlfriend his own age, making the crush appropriately one-sided). The concluding heist, in which the grandmothers attempt to steal a painting, just misses confronting the increasingly morally dubious nature of the grandmothers’ missions: a somewhat unexpected kidnapping and a bizarrely amateurish robbery mistake all but prevent AJ from actively having to choose between conflicting loyalties. But in the end, friendships are repaired and the crooks are finally caught…in a classy way, of course. VERDICT A light and fun mix of friendship and adventure with a thoughtful core.–Jill Ratzan, Congregation Kol Emet, Yardley, PA
CONDIE, Ally. Summerlost. 272p. Dutton. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399187193.
Gr 5-8–A year after the accident that killed Cedar Lee’s father and younger brother, her family still feels freshly broken. Her mother moves the remainder of the family out to her hometown of Iron Creek for the summer. Cedar’s mom throws herself into fixing up their new house, leaving Cedar and her younger brother Miles to explore the area on their own. Cedar can’t shake her grief, especially when small trinkets that remind her of her brother Ben start appearing on her windowsill. Then Cedar notices that a strangely dressed boy rides by her house on his bike at the same time every day. She follows the boy and winds up with a new friend and a job at the Summerlost theater festival. As she dives into an old town mystery with Leo, she feels her heart slowly start to heal. Condie focuses mainly on Cedar’s healing. Miles and her mother are present, and their journey through grief is certainly evident, but more care is given to Cedar and the development of her new relationships through the theater program. Leo is a vibrant secondary character, as are some of the other charming folks Cedar meets throughout her stay in Iron Creek. Have this on hand for readers who enjoy a sweet, heartfelt story. VERDICT A first purchase for middle grade collections, particularly where realistic fiction and coming-of-age stories are in demand.–Carli Worthman, Carmel Middle School, Carmel, IN
COHEN, Marina. The Inn Between. illus. by Sarah Watts. 208p. Roaring Brook. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781626722026.
Gr 5-8–Eleven-year-old best friends Quinn and Kara are taking one last trip together before Kara and her family move away. The whole family are shaken after their car spins off the road when a blinding light appears out of nowhere. They decide they need to stop for the night, and, luckily, a hotel, the Inn Between, is close by. Staffed by a friendly receptionist, Persephone; an elevator operator named Sharon; and a forceful doorman, Aides, this eerie inn is conveniently located in the Mojave Desert. Quinn gets an ominous feeling as soon as she crosses the threshold. Her apprehensions are justified when Kara’s parents and brother go missing. Stuck in a labyrinthlike hotel hallway, the two friends are desperate to reunite with Kara’s family and find a way out. Situated directly on the border of California, the Inn Between represents the challenging transitions Quinn is facing. She is so resistant to change that she physically binds herself to Kara using a friendship bracelet. Many readers will relate to losing a friend, but here the pain of letting go is more acute because of Quinn’s past. This book is a fast-paced mystery that uses frequent flashbacks to heighten tension. Glimpses into her backstory reveal Quinn’s terrible mistake and its repercussions. Several black-and-white illustrations are included; however, the pictures appeal to a much younger audience and belie the dark themes that are present. VERDICT A suspenseful mystery with darker themes making it suitable for an upper elementary to middle school audience.–Jocelyn Charpentier, Brooklyn Public Library, NY
FOX, Janet. The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle. 400p. Viking. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780451476333.
Gr 6 Up–The Nazis have begun bombing London. Katherine Bateson’s father is sent off on a highly secret mission, and her mother decides that Katherine and her siblings should go to the Scottish highlands to escape the dangers of the German bombers. Before she goes, Katherine’s great-aunt Margaret gives her a farewell gift: Margaret’s chatelaine, an ornament worn by women. As the Batesons and other children arrive in Scotland at Lord Gregor’s manor, recently converted to a school by the lady of the house, Katherine immediately realizes something is amiss. She and the others fear that a Nazi spy has infiltrated the castle, and they decide that he must be stopped. Then Lady Eleanor turns out to be more than she seems, and the lady’s chatelaine is revealed to be magical. Katherine also learns that she and the other children are in grave danger. Fox presents readers with a wonderfully paced, exciting story with enough twists to keep the pages turning. VERDICT The strong female lead and adventure on every page will keep any reader entertained from the first page to the last.–Wayne R. Cherry, Jr., First Baptist Academy Library, Houston, TX
GALLAHER, David. The Only Living Boy: Prisoner of the Patchwork Planet. illus. by Steve Ellis. 80p. Papercutz. 2016. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781629914435; pap. $8.99. ISBN 9781629914428.
Gr 4-7–Twelve-year-old Erik is running away, and he stops to spend the night in the shelter of a rock outcrop in New York City’s Central Park. When he wakes up, he finds himself in an alternate version of the city, complete with monstrous creatures baring their enormous teeth and an evil-looking dragon sitting atop the Empire State Building. Erik gets knocked out during a fight with the monsters and wakes up in a prison cell, where he learns that he is the only living human left in the world. He decides to free his fellow prisoners and fight back against their captor, an evil scientist named Doctor Once. Erik’s escape leads him to further adventures in an underground kingdom, built under what was once New York City. This action-packed graphic novel is filled with vividly colored and incredibly detailed illustrations of a wide variety of fantasy creatures, some terrifying and some endearing. From start to finish, the story line proceeds at a breakneck pace, with sometimes abrupt scene changes and little room for character development. However, readers who enjoy constant action and huge fight scenes will find much to like in this volume, and they will arrive at the end breathless and ready for the next installment in the series. VERDICT A fun offering for comic fans who love action and adventure.–Sarah Reid, Broome County Public Library, Binghamton, NY
HILL, Chris. Lucky. 208p. Scholastic/Chicken House. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545839778; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545840538.
Gr 3-6–Lucky, a young red squirrel, is appropriately named. Buried within memories, Lucky recalls the “shrinking winds, splintering wood, and sharp talons” that brought him to his new home with the Cloudfoots, a larger gray squirrel clan. Although his new mother tries to reassure him, everyone knows Lucky is different—even he knows he is different. The Cloudfoots are stronger and much larger (not to mention, much tougher) than Lucky. To fit in with the clan, he is thrust into the Squirrel Trial, a coming-of-age test that will allow him a permanent place within the society of the Cloudfoots. As Lucky begins to prepare himself for the trials, he discovers that the Northenders, a less-fortunate squirrel clan further down the avenue, want control of the rich Cloudfoot lands. A war is approaching, and Lucky’s new clan needs him to help. Debut author Hill intertwines themes of loyalty and friendship with a coming-of-age story of a young outcast going against the odds. Lucky is an endearing character who deals with some very sorrowful moments. VERDICT Lovers of animal adventure stories like The Tale of Despereaux and Charlotte’s Web will embrace this sweet tale.–Brittney Kosev, Terra Vista Middle School, Wolforth, TX
JUDGE, Malcolm. Jonny Jakes Investigates: The Hamburgers of Doom. illus. by Alan Brown. 240p. Capstone. Mar. 2016. pap. $8.95. ISBN 9781496526809.
Gr 3-6–Jonny Jakes may not be the undercover reporter his school wants, but he’s the undercover reporter that his school needs, no matter what Mr. Hardy says. Jonny writes for the banned school newspaper, The Woodford Word, and tackles the big issues using his other pen name, Fiona Friend. But when the paper goes too far and a new principal comes to town, it’s not just Jonny who’s in trouble. Mr. Jones seems great, but there’s just one small problem—he’s an alien. An alien whom Jonny is sure is up to something quite nefarious. Together with classmate Norris, unlikely ally Julie, the smartest girl in school Sally, and their drama teacher, Ms. Briars, the rag tag group must undo Mr. Jones’s mind control and stop him from consuming their school and possibly the planet. A diary-style format interspersed with cartoon illustrations and clippings from The Woodword Word keep pages interesting and particularly appealing for reluctant readers. Full of action and colorful humor, this novel will have kids anxiously flipping pages to discover the fate of Jonny and his friends. VERDICT Jonny Jakes and his antics will keep readers more than entertained and keep this book flying off shelves.–Ashley Prior, Lincoln Public Library, RI
KIDD, Ronald. Dreambender. 256p. Albert Whitman. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780807517253.
Gr 4-8–Welcome to civilization after the Warming. Floodwaters rose, and legend tells that survivors rode an arklike craft until they landed in the City. City folk work at prescribed jobs and value history and remembrance as ways not to repeat their ancestors’ mistakes. Callie, 13, works as a computer. Her interest in painting and music is discouraged, considered to be a dangerous distraction to society. Not too far away lives young, inquisitive Jeremy Finn, a dreambender. He is learning his job—entering the dreams of City folk and stamping out any perceived threats to society, like Callie’s singing. Jeremy sees Callie in his dreams and begins to question his work. He leaves the Meadow to find her, uncovering the secret underpinnings of their society. Jeremy and Callie call for change and freedom in the book’s final act. Kidd raises the essential issues of government and free will without violence or despair, making for a kinder, gentler dystopian novel, and explores difficult choices without being preachy. Callie and Jeremy are likable characters who risk everything to be themselves. Other than the threat of discovery and some chase scenes, there isn’t much peril, which gives the book a dreamy, peaceful feeling that mutes the drama somewhat. Kidd’s spare prose winds around dialogue and description, creating images for readers as vivid as Jeremy’s dreams. Short sentences will speed reluctant readers through the text. VERDICT This read-alike of Lois Lowry’s The Giver and Jeanne DePrau’s The City of Ember (Random, 2003) will make for meaty group discussion.–Caitlin Augusta, Stratford Library Association, CT
KING, Wesley. Dragons vs. Drones. 283p. Penguin/RazorBill. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781595147974.
Gr 4-7–Marcus’s father disappeared without a trace eight years ago while working for the CIA. He was quickly branded a traitor, causing heartache and isolation for his young son. Still convinced that his dad is alive and innocent, Marcus uses all of his skills as an advanced and gifted coder to unlock the mystery of his disappearance. Extremely conscious that his every movement is being tracked by government drones, he is fixated on weather patterns that he believes are linked to his father’s vanishing. When he purposefully puts himself in the center of a horrific storm, the last thing Marcus expects is to be transported to a parallel world called Dracone. In this strange place, he meets Dree, a girl with unusual gifts of her own and a dragon companion to boot. Horrified that the drones have followed him to this new land, the two join forces with the dragons to battle the drones and perhaps reveal the whereabouts of Marcus’s father. King delivers an effective amalgam of science fiction and fantasy in this first entry in a series. The book will hold strong appeal for kids who are into coding and all things tech. VERDICT A smart purchase for libraries looking to augment their tween sci-fi collection.–Amy Nolan, St. Joseph Public Library, St. Joseph, MI
KNIGHT, Mary. Saving Wonder. 288p. Scholastic. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545828932; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545828956.
Gr 5-7–The coal industry has taken a lot from 12-year-old Curley. Both parents and his brother were killed in coal-related accidents. Now a new coal company wants to mine his Kentucky mountain home, and the company owner’s son, JD, wants to date his best friend/secret crush, Jules. But Curley’s determined to fight for what he loves and has the resources to prevail. Grandfather Pawpaw raised Curley with an appreciation for the power of words, and with help from Jules and even JD, words become Curley’s tools to save his home. The streamlined plot moves quickly toward two climactic scenes on the mountain: one will bring tears, the other, cheers. Descriptions of the setting’s fragile beauty are so subtly interwoven with dialogue and action, they’re not only powerful visual images but ever-present reminders of what’s at stake in Curley’s fight. With the exception of JD’s father, drawn as a one-dimensional personification of Big Coal—materialistic as well as a neglectful husband and father—all the characters are fully developed and endearing, their dialogue direct and sincere. Adults are loving but don’t always have all the answers; kids show their emotions with straightforward honesty. Curley and Pawpaw’s word-a-week ritual crystallizes their relationship for the readers and gives Curley the confidence to take on an adversary that seems more powerful than he is. VERDICT A remarkable debut novel from an author to watch.–Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY
LEONARD, M.G. Beetle Boy. illus. by Júlia Sardà. 288p. Scholastic/Chicken House. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545853460; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545853552.
Gr 5-8–An engaging story aimed at upper middle grade readers who enjoy mysteries but who might not be ready for more mature young adult plotlines. When Dr. Bartholomew Cuttle, a renowned entomologist at the National History Museum in London, suddenly disappears from his research vault without a trace, no one is more surprised than his son, Darkus. The boy can’t believe his father would just vanish and leave him alone in the world. During his first week at Uncle Max’s flat (his father’s brother, also a researcher, who returns from Egypt to care for Darkus), a rhinoceros beetle appears out of nowhere. And it’s no ordinary beetle. Atypically large, it seems to have the uncanny ability to understand what Darkus says. Feeling an immediate connection to his father, Darkus adopts the beetle, names him Baxter, and vows to find his father. Along with his new friends Virginia and Bertolt, Darkus discovers even more interesting beetles in the next-door neighbor’s flat inhabited by warring cousins Pickering and Humphrey. When another famous researcher, Lucretia Cutter, discovers the beetles and wants to buy all of them (think Cruella de Vil), the sharp-minded threesome ponder the connection to Darkus’s father and develop a plan to save the beetles and find Dr. Cuttle. The story moves quickly, and the characters are both wacky and entertaining. VERDICT Educators looking for fiction that connects to and supports science curricula may find a new favorite in this.–Anne Jung-Mathews, Plymouth State University, NH
PARK, Linda Sue. Forest of Wonders. 352p. (Wing & Claw: Bk. 1). HarperCollins/Harper. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062327383.
Gr 4-7–Park’s newest foray into fiction is a switch from the historical into the fantastical. In this, the first installment in a trilogy, readers meet Raffa Santana. The young teen protagonist is following in his parents’ footsteps and taking on the challenges of apothecary work. Raffa has a deeply profound intuition when it comes to botanical/chemical work. His extreme ability leads him to form uniquely deep relationships with special friends and creatures from the Forest of Wonder. The story is written with skill and well paced. The real beauty in Park’s work lies in the relationship she creates between Raffa and Echo the bat. The story contains some high-intensity action scenes that will hook readers. The world-building is intensive; there is clearly a multilayered history and culture underlying the richly detailed setting. This story would be great as a way to create some interest and engagement with students studying chemistry or earth science. VERDICT A strong addition by a wonderfully talented author to diversify middle grade fantasy collections.–Chad Lane, Tulip Grove Elementary School, MD
PATTERSON, James & Chris Grabenstein. Jacky Ha-Ha. illus. by Kerascoët. 384p. Little, Brown. Mar. 2016. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9780316262491; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316303026.
Gr 4-6–The jokes fall flat in this mediocre tale of family, middle school mishaps, and personal acceptance. Jacky recounts her life during the 1990s, when George H.W. Bush was president and Nintendo was popular. Jacky Hart, the fourth of six sisters, uses her quick wit to disguise her speech impediment. Although she makes herself a promise to behave differently in middle school, she unfortunately ends up, once again, being the class clown. This stems from her home life. There, she needs to be a personal cheerleader to her sisters, as their father is mysteriously missing during family dinners and their mother is off serving in Operation Desert Shield. When Jacky finds herself in big trouble for being a jokester, Mrs. O’Mara, a new English teacher, helps her realize that she has talent far beyond collecting detentions. Readers will find Jacky entertaining, but her character is ultimately unoriginal. Cartoon illustrations are interspersed throughout the novel, similar to those in Patterson’s I Funny (Little, Brown, 2013) and Rachel Renee Russell’s “Dork Diaries” series (S. & S.). While the art is playful and fun to look at, it never feels essential to the text. Readers may find Jacky’s grown-up narration confusing, as she recounts her life as a middle schooler. The ending is unrealistic. VERDICT Despite its many shortcomings, this title is sure to have high circulation among fans of Patterson’s previous works.–Jessica Bratt, Grand Rapids Public Library, Grand Rapids, MI
POULIN, Andrée. The Biggest Poutine in the World. 160p. Annick. Mar. 2016. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781554518265; pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781554518258.
Gr 4-7–Twelve-year old Thomas Gagné hasn’t seen his mother since his fifth birthday, and he has many unanswered questions. Why did she leave? Why was she crying that last night when she made poutine (a traditional French Canadian dish with french fries, fresh cheese curds, and gravy) and sang “Happy Birthday” as she stuck five pine green candles in the middle of the plate? Thomas decides to make the biggest poutine in the world and set a new record in The Guinness Book of World Records. Surely that will bring his mother back. What follows is a poignant story about a boy who wants desperately to be noticed, not just by his absent mother but by a father who refuses to even mention her. Along the way, readers are introduced to a fun cast of characters who participate in the poutine project, including Sam, Thomas’s best friend; Elie Ladouceur, whose mom owns a cheese shop; “Fat Frank,” who sells french fries from his truck; and the wacky mayor Thérèse Tartatcheff, who doesn’t want a giant poutine created in the city arena, because it is considered unhealthy food. Readers will delight in chapters where Thomas, Elie, and Sam “borrow” the mayor’s beloved parrot in an effort to win her sympathy and support for their project. The novel offers a solid introduction to French Canadian culture and is peppered with equal amounts of prose (including text and email communications between characters) and illustrations. As the story progresses, the mystery surrounding Thomas’s mother is slowly revealed and readers will celebrate Thomas’s success. VERDICT Guaranteed to make youngsters crave a bite of poutine, this is a funny and tender coming-of-age story.–Anne Jung-Mathews, Plymouth State University, NH
RIVERS, Karen. The Girl in the Well Is Me. 224p. Algonquin. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781616205690.
Gr 4-6–Kammie Summers is wedged partway down a well shaft, unable to move her arms and possibly running low on oxygen. In a funny, surreal, occasionally heartbreaking stream-of-consciousness narrative, Kammie ponders the clique of girls whose mean-spirited initiation ritual caused her fall down the well and who don’t feel as much urgency about her rescue as Kammie (and readers) might hope. She contemplates her mother, frazzled from working two jobs; her father, in prison for embezzling money from a children’s charity; and the fallout from her dad’s terrible decisions, including their move to the backwater town where her attempts to make friends led to this catastrophe. Kammie’s spiky but sympathetic narration yields a compulsively readable story, traveling swiftly from friendship woes to sibling conflict to conversations with the silver Francophone coyote she hallucinates as the oxygen situation deteriorates. Rivers provides Kammie—along with the coyote and some unfriendly zombie goats—authentic feelings of guilt, anger, loneliness, and self-pity about her circumstances in and out of the immediate danger of the well. Though the book confronts both the specter of death and the reality of parental betrayal, Rivers has a middle grade audience in mind; the tangential meandering keeps the pacing snappy, and Kammie emerges from the well reasonably intact. The narrative falters at the very end as uplifting resolutions come too easily, but middle grade readers likely won’t mind the rosy lens. VERDICT An unusual story with uncommonly truthful emotions.–Robbin E. Friedman, Chappaqua Library, NY
ROSSELL, Judith. Withering-by-Sea. illus. by Judith Rossell. 272p. ebook available. S. & S./Atheneum. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481443678.
Gr 4-6–Stella Montgomery leads a lonely, dreary life in a seaside hotel with her overprotective aunts. Her one escape is reading a moldy atlas and imagining adventures away from the Hotel Majestic and Withering-by-Sea. Excitement finds Stella when she witnesses the murder of a guest and is entrusted with a small package by him, a mysterious bottle of swirling silver. This new possession makes her the target of the sinister magician, the Professor, whose designs on the little bottle may send Stella on more adventures than she wished for. This is an enjoyable mix of adventure and fantasy in a historical setting featuring a strong, sympathetic heroine. Stella is eager to explore, investigate, and help, and the challenges she confronts make her relatable. Although the first half of the story moves in fits and starts and the climax is a bit rushed, the interesting and well-drawn characters, from the trainer of operatic cats to the aunts’ harried maids, make up for most of the plot’s failings. The charming illustrations by the author also enhance the story. VERDICT Readers who enjoyed The Invention of Hugo Cabret will appreciate the atmosphere, adventure, and detail of Withering-by-Sea.–Marian McLeod, Convent of the Sacred Heart, Greenwich, CT
SALAMON, Julie. Mutt’s Promise. illus. by Jill Weber. 256p. Dial. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780525427780.
Gr 4-6–After a stray dog, Mutt, saves his pet cat from an attack, Mr. Thomas invites Mutt to stay on his farm. She is very much loved by Gilbert, the son of the farm’s migrant worker. Soon, Mutt gives birth to four puppies; Gilbert adores them all, especially the one he names Luna. But his family must move on. The puppies grow and become more aware of their mother’s courage and optimistic outlook. Two of the pups are adopted to good homes, but Mr. Thomas is bullied by the owner of a puppy mill into giving over the others, Chief and Luna. The puppies manage to escape the terrible mill and after an arduous journey are found by workers from a pet rescue organization. They recover from their ordeal and are adopted by Marty, an animal trainer. Chief proudly becomes a police dog, and Luna becomes a media star, but she won’t be truly happy until she is reunited with Gilbert once again. The story is written in short sentences with a clear message about puppy mills, pet rescue organizations, and the bond between humans and dogs. The book is illustrated with childlike drawings in graphite and charcoal whose tones, ranging from light to very dark, are effective in communicating the narrative. VERDICT Dog lovers, especially those who prefer a tale that is easy to read and has a happy ending, will enjoy this upbeat book.–Nancy P. Reeder, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, Columbia, SC
SALES, Leila. Once Was a Time. 324p. Chronicle. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452140094.
Gr 4-6–“Most people don’t believe in time travel,” begins this work of fantasy/sci-fi set in 1940s wartime London. Ten-year-old Lottie and her best friend, the anagram-obsessed Kitty, certainly do. Lottie’s dad is engaged in top-secret scientific research that may help win the war. Sales’s story takes an abrupt detour as Lottie travels to suburban Wisconsin in the year 2013, without any clothes, without any clues, and, worst of all, without Kitty. With the help of a friendly librarian, some clueless but kind foster parents, and a geeky outcast artist, Lottie finds a new life, but she can’t forget her dearest friend. She’s determined to find her again, though time and space themselves stand in the way. Packed with literary allusions, meditations on friendship, and historical/geographical tidbits, this book is a bit of an unwieldy read, and its never-ending stream of coincidence, luck, and nice people can get a little wearing (has any Child Protective Services interview ever gone so well with so little paperwork?). The science is fluff, but the book shines in its portrayal of friendship, both the intense bond between Lottie and Kitty and the blossoming trust between Lottie and her new friend, Jake. VERDICT This genre mash-up will appeal to fans of Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me (Random, 2009) and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.–Katya Schapiro, Brooklyn Public Library
SANDERS, Ted. The Harp and the Ravenvine. illus. by Iacopo Bruno. 672p. (The Keepers: Bk. 2). HarperCollins. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062275851. Pop
Gr 5-8–Having defeated the Riven and their creepy leader, Mr. Jericho, in The Box and the Dragonfly, Horace and Chloe are busy learning some of Horace’s mom’s secrets, including that she is a Tuner (someone who uses a harplike object to cleanse and tune up the Keeper’s magical talismans). Then they are introduced to Brian, whose abilities are so unique that he can never leave his underground workshop. Meanwhile, a girl named April acquires an unusual piece of jewelry, which amps up her empathy toward animals but also makes her a target for the Riven and compels her to follow a mysterious woman (who may be neither trustworthy nor completely sane) and boy on a perilous journey. Chloe and Brian are especially interesting characters, both dealing with issues of trust and responsibility with snarky humor and bravado. Once again, there is a lot of jargon and complicated mythology to get through and a fair amount of violence. Many questions are left unanswered, leaving the door open to further adventures. VERDICT Readers who are willing to make the effort will find this a rewarding and thought-provoking fantasy.–Mara Alpert, Los Angeles Public Library
SCHWARTZ, Ellen. Heart of a Champion. 272p. ebook available. Tundra. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781770498808.
Gr 4-6–An author’s note offers context and sets the stage for this glimpse of the World War II experience of Japanese Canadians. Ten-year-old Kenny (Kenji) wants to be on the Asahis, a Japanese Canadian baseball team, like his talented big brother, Mickey. Unfortunately, Kenny’s doctor advises his parents to limit him to nonstrenuous activities due to a suspected heart condition. Though he’s not allowed to play baseball, he still dreams of making the team and asks Mickey to secretly coach him. Their family enjoy a comfortable life in Vancouver and close friendship with their neighbors, a Jewish family who fled Nazi Germany. With the outbreak of war, things change. Kenny’s dad is forced to close his camera store and is sent away to a work camp. Eventually, the rest of the family is sent to an internment camp in the mountains. Kenny and his family live in a hastily constructed shack, which they must share with another family, and there’s scant privacy. Each day is a struggle, but Kenny and his fellow internees work together to solve problems. Daily tasks like lugging water from creek to cabin build Kenny’s muscles and character; eventually, thoughtful Kenny finds a way to play baseball again. Using straightforward prose, Schwartz develops Kenny into a well-rounded character. His personal growth is believable, and readers will be engaged and empathize with his problems. VERDICT Comparable to several books in the “Dear America” series, this offers a gentle introduction to the plight of persons of Japanese descent during World War II.–Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA
SEDGWICK, Julian. The Black Dragon. illus. by Patricia Moffett. 352p. Carolrhoda Lab. Mar. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781467775670.
Gr 4-7–In this gripping series introduction, readers meet 12-year-old Danny, who is dealing with the traumatic and shady aftermath of his parents’ deaths. Both of Danny’s parents were entertainers at the dark, New Age, traveling Mysterium circus. An explosion at his school forces the boy to accompany his journalist aunt to Hong Kong. Soon after, his aunt is kidnapped, and it’s up to Danny to infiltrate the Black Dragon, a Chinese organized crime syndicate, and rescue her. Danny, who is identified as biracial (Chinese and British), will endear himself to readers. The cool and calm he is able to find in intense situations, coupled with all of the amazing skills he has picked up from his parents, will both mesmerize and inspire audiences. Lending him a hand is his godfather, Major Zamora, described as a “dwarf strongman.” The pacing is fast, featuring a strong blend of intense action and inner struggle. The ending is powerful and thrilling, clearly setting readers up for a second installment. VERDICT For fans of action-driven adventure set in the criminal underworld.–Chad Lane, Tulip Grove Elementary School, MD
SURRISI, C.M. The Maypop Kidnapping. 304p. ebook available. Carolrhoda. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781467757898.
Gr 5-8–This funny and engaging debut is set in contemporary Maine, as eighth grader Quinnie is just about to begin school with her class of two when her teacher goes missing. Quinnie pleads with her mother—Maiden Rock’s mayor, sheriff, and only real estate agent—to search for her missing teacher, but to no avail. After days of waiting, the tiny town finally realizes that something strange is happening in Maiden Rock. Armed with a new friend and her desperate desire to find her teacher, Quinnie takes matters into her own hands. Who is the kidnapper? “Maniac psycho-killer lover” Owen Loney? Left-at-the-altar John Derby? And just what are those two nuns up to, anyway? Surrisi has created a tale that captures readers’ attention within the first few pages and keeps up the pace through the last chapter. The characters are relatable, refreshingly human, and very funny. Quinnie acts just like a 13-year-old girl would; she is an adult, a child, wise, and very foolish all at the same time. Surrisi’s law background lends valuable perspective and information to the mystery but is never heavy-handed. Information is always provided through Quinnie and with the right level of comprehension for a girl her age. Perfect for middle schoolers and upper elementary–aged readers, this title hits just the right note of suspense without being too scary. A minor flaw is an abundance of pop culture references, which will date the book far too quickly. Here’s hoping the next installment of this planned series keeps Quinnie on her toes. VERDICT A general purchase for most libraries, and a first purchase where mysteries are in high demand.–Taylor Worley, Springfield Public Library, OR
TOBIN, Paul. How to Capture an Invisible Cat. illus. by Thierry Lafontaine. 272p. (The Genius Factor: Bk. 1). Bloomsbury. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781619638402.
Gr 3-6–In this quick and fun series starter, Tobin uses humor and great imagination to offer younger middle grade readers a delightful romp that will appeal to fans of madcap adventure. Genius inventor Nate and his best friend, Delphine, find themselves in a bit of a pickle on Friday the 13th, when Nate turns his pet cat invisible—and gigantic. Events escalate with the additions of a talking Scottie dog and an evil “Red Death Tea Society.” Nate is a lovable underdog and nerd, while Delphine faces issues with friendship and social interactions—themes that will resonate with kids. VERDICT Ideal for book clubs. The easy flow of dialogue and vocabulary will help build fluency and keep readers’ attention.–Tracey Wong, P.S. 54/Fordham Bedford Academy, Bronx, NY
WALLIAMS, David. Demon Dentist. illus. by Tony Ross. 448p. ebook available. HarperCollins. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062417046.
Gr 4-6–Somewhere out there, the ghost of Roald Dahl is musing, “Teeth? Of course, teeth!” Walliams’s tale is a little darker, scarier, more PG-rated, but still Dahl-esque in the extreme. Twelve-year-old Alfie’s had a rough time—no mother, a loving but very ill dad, and the memory of a particularly traumatic dental experience that has resulted in a mouth full of rotting teeth. When the new dentist in town shows up at a school assembly, Alfie’s convinced that she is evil, and it turns out he’s absolutely right. Absurd comedy meets creepy horror, with a little family drama thrown in, all of it racing by at a breakneck pace, with a few pauses for underwear gags, toilet humor, and other kid-friendly shtick. Supporting characters sometimes edge perilously close to cliché, but there are a few standouts, including Dad and Gabz (who is NOT Alfie’s girlfriend, as he points out many, many times). The whole package is extremely British, but American readers should feel comfortable enough, thanks to Ross’s familiar illustrations and most middle graders’ knowledge of all things Muggle. VERDICT Frenetic humor for middle grade fans of the funny and fearsome.–Mara Alpert, Los Angeles Public Library
YARDI, Robin. The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez. 184p. ebook available. Carolrhoda. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781467783064.
Gr 3-6–A middle grade story with a smidgen of fantasy, in which the intrepid protagonist tackles new and old friendships, his sense of belonging and letting go, and the unbelievable disappearance of his beloved trike. Mateo Martinez is a fourth grader who swears that his trike was stolen by two talking skunks. His family, younger sister Mila, and new best friend Ashwin bear with Mateo’s claim and believe they are dreams, because Mateo constantly dreams of being a medieval knight. From confronting bullies at school and coping with Johnny not being his best friend anymore to strengthening his friendship with Ashwin, Mateo must embark on a quest to figure out who he is, while tracking down the stinky creatures who stole his trike. In this debut novel, Yardi draws parallels between the fantasy world of talking animals and Mateo’s reality of growing up and finding himself. Throughout the book, the protagonist confronts internal battles about being Mexican American but not being able to speak Spanish as well as his views of race and ethnicity and who belongs in his neighborhood and in the occupied city of Santa Barbara. On this particular point, the author doesn’t expand much. VERDICT A fun, action-filled tale whose protagonist has a distinct and sincere young voice. Recommended for collections and libraries that serve a lower middle grade population.–Sujei Lugo, Boston Public Library, MA
YEP, Laurence & Joanne Ryder. A Dragon’s Guide to Making Your Human Smarter. illus. by Mary GrandPré. 304p. ebook available. Crown. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385392327; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780385392334.
Gr 4-6–In this second book in the series about a grand dragon and her human “pet,” Miss Drake sends Winnie to Spriggs Academy, where the students are a mixture of regular kids, known as “naturals,” and “magicals,” kids ranging from young enchanters to werewolves to centaurs. Faculty members include a witch, a bird lady, and Sir Isaac Newton. Familiar school-based plot elements of bullies, class excursions, and talent shows take on new twists with magical elements thrown in. There’s also a fun blend of magic and modern technology: Miss Drake the dragon is a frequent user of text messaging. Along with the school antics, Winnie faces other challenges: she must reveal the secret world of magic to her oblivious mother and survive a kidnapping plot by her evil grandpa. The girl handles everything just fine, with determination, curiosity, and a kind heart, along with occasional use of handy magical objects. While Winnie’s triumphs neatly demonstrate that personal qualities are as valuable as natural-born magic, her easy success feels rather anticlimactic. She charms her greedy, power-hungry grandfather, as well as the school bully, with offers of friendship, and her mother’s acceptance of the world of magic occurs with even less drama. Winnie’s straightforward narration alternates with passages from Miss Drake, whose wry tone adds light humor to the story. An appealing black-and-white drawing opens each chapter. VERDICT A solid choice for readers new to fantasy and those who like gentle adventures with a touch of humor.–Steven Engelfried, Wilsonville Public Library, OR
ZIA, Farhana. Child of Spring. 192p. Peachtree. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781561459049.
Gr 3-5–Basanta is a young girl who lives in a typical Indian busti, a community of huts, in modern-day India. Alongside her amma, her mother, she works at the Big House for the memsaab’s daughter, Little Bibi. Often, Basanta wonders why it is that Little Bibi is lucky enough to live in a fine house surrounded by fine things while Basanta can only yearn for them. Then, one day, Little Bibi’s ring goes missing and Basanta is sure she is suspected of theft! After building up the situation in her head, Basanta is let off the hook when Little Bibi receives a new, even finer ring for her birthday. Although the plot eventually circles back around to the original (found) ring, the novel as a whole focuses on Basanta’s capers with the young inhabitants of her busti and how she might be more like Little Bibi than she imagined. Through her interactions with the children who live in the huts beside hers, Basanta comes to find that her family is in a position of satisfaction, never having to go without rice in the pot, and that being able to help others is a reward in and of itself. Although the exact setting is not made explicit through the text and the language peppered into the narrative and dialogue is not immediately identified, context clues and a glossary make clarifying easy. VERDICT A solid, diverse purchase for middle grade collections.–Brittany Staszak, Eisenhower Public Library District, IL
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