November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

From Summer Camp to the Far Reaches of the Galaxy | Middle Grade Series Update

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1605-MG-SeriesUpdate-CVs-1From mysteries (city-set and rural) and fantasy to stories featuring both friendships gone wrong and those that can survive anything, the latest roundup of middle grade series has something for everyone. Young readers will experience the anxieties of a first crush and the breakup of a relationship as well as the joys of a common experience: summer vacation. Readers will explore the farthest reaches of the galaxy and see their own worlds and experiences filtered through the lens of well-crafted protagonists. Below are some of the brightest continuing series offerings.

Brallier, Max. The Wiener Strikes Back. illus. by Rachel Maguire & Nichole Kelley. 288p. (Galactic Hot Dogs: Bk. 2). S. & S./Aladdin. May 2016. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9781481424967.

Gr 4-7–The heroes of this series are back for another space traveling adventure. Cosmoe, along with Princess Dagger and Big Humphree, encounters a mysterious carnival run by the eerie Crostini. When the group stop a horrific monster from destroying the carnival, they get jobs at the circus. Cosmoe finds out that Crostini is in cahoots with an evil figure from their past, and it’s up to the Galactic Hot Dogs to foil the diabolical plot and save the universe. Fans of the first book and the original source material (a popular online presence) will eat this up. Those who haven’t read the first title will be lost, as there is little to no background information given. Readers of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and those still obsessed with all things Star Wars will enjoy this silly romp through space.

Columbus, Chris & Ned Vizzini with Chris Rylander. Clash of the Worlds. 512p. (House of Secrets: Bk. 3). HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. May 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062192516.

Gr 5-8–The saga of the Walker family comes to a close with the third book in the series, which features the kind of literary adventure that fans have come to expect. Picking up not that long after the previous installment (Battle of the Beasts), this title sees Brendan, Cordelia, and Eleanor scrambling to recapture the beasts that have escaped from the world of their father’s books. After a series of events trigger even more destruction, the trio is forced to chase down the magical objects that will help seal off the alternate dimensions that threaten San Francisco and the world as they know it. Fans of the previous titles will love spending one last romp with the Walkers and the rest of their family. The authors provide enough backstory to ensure that newcomers will enjoy the ride. Recommend this series to those young readers eagerly anticipating the newest title from Chris Colfer’s “The Land of Stories.”

Frederick, Heather Vogel. Mother-Daughter Book Camp. 336p. (The Mother-Daughter Book Club: Bk. 7). S. & S. May 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442471832.

Gr 5-8–Before the teen protagonists scatter around the country to college, they spend one last summer together as counselors at Camp Lovejoy. For most of the group, this is their first time in this type of situation, and they struggle to help their younger charges. Many of the campers are dealing with homesickness, and the counselors jump into action to help make their summer one they won’t forget (with the help of Understood Betsy, the classic novel by Dorothy Canfield Fisher). All but one of the main characters are white (Megan is Chinese American). There’s enough context here to guarantee that those who haven’t read the six previous installments will appreciate this final volume. While many of the teen counselors are going off to college and are dealing with boyfriend drama, much of the action is very innocent and perfectly middle grade–friendly. Young readers who have made the journey with these characters will be sad to say goodbye to them but will be satisfied with how it all ends.

Freeman, Martha. Campfire Cookies. 288p. (The Secret Cookie Club). S. & S. May 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481448215.

Gr 4-7–Camp is back in session at the Moonlight Ranch, and the girls of the Secret Cookie Club return for another summer of delicious treats and fun. Grace, Olivia, Emma, and Lucy, along with their camp counselor Hannah, are excited to start their summer off with games and cute boys. They’re also coping with the new “no technology” policy. When Hannah receives a breakup letter from her boyfriend, the members of the Secret Cookie Club rally around their friend. The main characters are a racially and economically diverse group. Fans of the previous entry in the series will eagerly welcome them back into their lives. Freeman offers enough background for new readers to come aboard.

Gallagher, Toni. Love Potion #11. 272p. (Twist My Charm). Random. May 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780553511192; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780553511208.

Gr 4-6–All Cleo wants is for everyone to be friends again. After the events of The Popularity Spell, her former best friend Samantha is friends with a new group of girls. Cleo has a new pal whom she is getting to know better, and she’s lucky to have the support of Larry, her best guy friend. Cleo schemes to get everyone’s friendship back on track with the help of a love potion mysteriously sent from her odd uncle from New Orleans. When things don’t go the way they should, Cleo’s plans start to fall apart. The second book in the series is full of the same charm and fluffy middle school antics that readers of the previous volume enjoyed. Gallagher provides enough background from the first book so new readers will not have any problems jumping in. Cleo’s single father, who is trying to get back in the dating game while raising a child, is realistic. The presence of a long-talked-about but little-seen character in the end leaves room for further installments in this “charm”-ing series.

1605-MG-SeriesUpdate-CVs-2Gardner, Lyn. Fright in the Night. illus. by Ros Asquith. 148p. (Ghastly McNastys). Kids Can. Apr. 2016. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9781771381307; pap. $7.95. ISBN 9781771381482.

Gr 3-6–Set sail for another adventure featuring the pernicious pirates known as the Ghastly McNastys. After an encounter with a large fishing trawler and being expelled from the stomach of a giant killer whale, Gruesome and Grisly McNasty are once again on the path to finding their long-lost treasure. Characters from previous adventures band together to stop the pirates in their tracks and prevent them from creating havoc. Gardner dives right into her story, establishing necessary background along the way. Heavily illustrated, this is a great pick for reluctant readers. The jokes come at a rat-a-tat pace, and young readers will delight in the wordplay. A few of the jokes employ Briticisms and may go over the heads of some readers, but overall this is a fun ride on the high seas that will have fans clamoring for more.

Gibbs, Stuart. Spaced Out. 352p. (Moon Base Alpha). S. & S. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481423366.

Gr 5-8–The adventures of Dashiell “Dash” Gibson and the rest of the families on Moon Base Alpha, the first community on the moon, continue in this thrilling outing from popular author Gibbs. Life on the moon base is not going great for Dash. He’s stressing out over his friendship with Zan Perfonic, an alien whom only he can see. He is terrorized by sibling bullies and, after defending himself, gets into trouble with Nina, the moon base’s commander. When Nina goes missing one day, it’s up to Dash and his friends to solve the mystery and get her back. A list of the residents of Moon Base Alpha precedes the story, making it more accessible to new readers. Gibbs also provides necessary backstory from the previous installment throughout. Excerpts from The Official Residents’ Guide to Moon Base Alpha appear before each chapter, giving readers a hint of the space antics to come. Fantasy and mystery fans will find elements to enjoy in this fun, action-packed tale. An apocalyptic warning appears in the last chapter, ensuring more adventures in the near future.

Grey, Jacob. The Swarm Descends. 288p. (Ferals: Bk. 2). HarperCollins. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062321060.

Gr 4-6–Caw is a “Feral”—he can communicate with and control the actions of a particular type of animal (in this case, crows). In this title, which picks up where the previous book left off, Caw is recovering from defeating The Spinning Man (the villain from Ferals) and saving Blackstone. However, a new big bad has emerged—the Mother of Flies—and it’s up to Caw and his friends to stop her and save the city from destruction again. Fans of Caw’s first adventure will devour this latest installment, which features the same level of action and vast world-building. A refresher of prior events is provided within the first chapter so new readers will be able to follow along. An open ending ensures that other books are coming; fans will be eager to continue the series.

Marcionette, Jake. Camp Wild Survival. illus. by Victor Rivas Villa. 208p. photos. (Just Jake: Bk. 3). Penguin. Jan. 2016. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780448488844.

Gr 4-6–Summer vacation is finally here, and Jake is looking forward to relaxing and sailing through the next three months. After his parents find out about his lucrative business idea of selling massive tires to devotees of “CrazyFit,” an extreme exercise program, Jake is forced to enroll in Camp Wild Survival, a mash-up of Survivor and Man vs. Wild, hosted by TV personality Thunder Banks. Accompanied by his dad, his older sister, his best friend, and a group of rambunctious quadruplet neighbors, Jake learns that he can’t do everything by himself and will need the help of his closest friends and family to survive the wilderness. This novel stands alone and will appeal to fans of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” Spot illustrations and photographs appear throughout the text, adding touches of humor. Readers will eagerly anticipate further adventures in Jake’s unusual yet fun world.

1605-MG-SeriesUpdate-CVs-3Mlynowski, Sarah, Lauren Myracle, & Emily Jenkins. Sticks & Stones. 208p. (Upside Down Magic: Bk. 2). Scholastic. May 2016. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780545800495; ebk. $14.99. ISBN 9780545800518.

Gr 3-6–The “magical misfits” of the Upside-Down Magic class are back for another adventure that is sure to delight readers. There are strange happenings at Dunwiddle Middle School, and Marigold, Nory, and Bax are being unfairly blamed for the shenanigans. The members of the class all have different power that define them. They are either Flyers, Flares, Fluxers, Fuzzies, or Flickers. Fans of light fantasy such as Jen Calonita’s “Charmed” series and Mlynowski’s own “Whatever After” series will devour this new addition. Mlynowski, Myracle, and Jenkins provide backstory from the previous installment, ensuring that new readers will not be lost along the way. This is the kind of whimsical story that fans will appreciate.

O’Hara, Mo. Any Fin Is Possible. illus. by Marek Jagucki. 176p. (My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish). Feiwel & Friends. Mar. 2016. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781250063533.

Gr 3-5–Tom and Pradeep’s adventures with Frank (their Big Fat Zombie Goldfish) continue with two new stories that will delight fans of their previous exploits. The first offering finds them at the local museum for the annual History Museum Sleepover. There, they try to stop their nefarious older brothers from wrecking the new Egyptian exhibit, and get cursed by the Cat King. In the second tale, they try to stop the eagerly anticipated Sports Day from turning into a disaster. Illustrations appear throughout the novel, adding to the zany antics. Give this to fans of Andy Griffiths’s “Treehouse” series and those readers who enjoyed previous installments.

Ringwald, Whitaker. The Secret Fire. 208p. (The Secret Box). HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Jun. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062216205.

Gr 4-6 –The concluding volume in the trilogy starts off exactly where The Secret Cipher left off. Jax has been kidnapped by Ricardo, an immortal who is seeking the urns of Faith, Love, and Hope to eradicate Zeus from history. One of these urns is currently in the possession of Tyler and Ethan, Jax’s cousins. All three main characters have funny, distinct voices, conveyed through first-person narration. This is a perfect series for young readers not quite ready for the works of Rick Riordan. Newcomers may want to start with The Secret Box, as there is little background given about the first two books. Fans will be exhilarated and sad to see this smart, witty, and exciting series end.

Salane, Jeffrey. Mayhem. 304p. Scholastic. May 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545450331; ebk. $17.99. ISBN 9780545885713.

Gr 5-8–M is your typical teenager who has anxieties about starting a new school. She has made some friends (she remembers only hanging out with them in a group, never one-on-one) and meets a cute boy with an unusual name (Evel). When her substitute teacher, who has a Cockney accent and bulging muscles, tries to kill her in class one day, M’s memories come rushing back. She is a graduate of the Fulbright Academy, waging war on the Lawless School, whose members are determined to take over the world. Salane does a remarkable job of slowly setting up the story in the first two chapters. Once the action starts, it never stops. M and her friends jump from helicopters, dodge flying blades, and engage in nonstop fisticuffs, James Bond–style. Fans of the two previous books will delight in the action-packed, adventure-filled narrative. Newcomers will find themselves lost in the story, as there is little to no background given. Even though this is touted as the final book in the trilogy, an open ending signals possible new outings with M and her cohorts.

Warner, Penny. The Hunt for the Missing Spy. 168p. (The Code Busters Club: Bk. 5). Darby Creek. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781512403046.

Gr 3-5–The Code Busters Club takes over Washington, DC! Cody, Quinn, Luke, and M.E. travel to the nation’s capital with their class to see the sights. On the agenda is an exciting visit to the International Spy Museum. Everyone is thrilled at the prospect of encountering an institution dedicated to making and cracking codes. Along the way, they encounter someone sneaking around in the shadows, following them everywhere. Can it be an actual spy? As in the other volumes in this award-winning series, there are lines of dialogue in codes. Readers are encouraged to consult the keys in the back matter to crack the codes. The members of the club are racially and ethnically diverse. This is a great addition to any collection, especially libraries and schools focusing on STEM activities.

1605-MG-SeriesUpdate-CVs-4Webb, Holly. The Case of the Feathered Mask. illus. by Marion Lindsay. 176p. (The Mysteries of Maisie Hitchins: Bk. 4). HMH. Apr. 2016. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780544619937.

Gr 3-5–Maisie Hitchins is not your typical young maid. While cleaning up after the residents of 31 Albion Street, she always manages to stumble upon a mystery to solve. In the latest installment of this series, Maisie tries to track down a feathered mask that was stolen from the room of famed world traveler Professor Tobin. Tobin has recently donated a large part of his collection to local museums, and the rest of his possessions are in high demand. Who could have stolen this mask, and why does it mean so much to Professor Tobin? Prolific British author Webb spins another yarn featuring her young gumshoe, and loyal readers will not be disappointed. Eagle-eyed readers will be able to guess the thief’s identity early on. There’s not much information given about Maisie’s previous adventures, yet they aren’t necessary, as this book stands on its own.

Wells, Marcia. Doom at Grant’s Tomb. illus. by Marcos Calo. 208p. (Eddie Red Undercover: Bk. 3). HMH. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544582606.

Gr 4-6–Eddie Red isn’t your typical 12-year-old. He has a photographic memory and is a veteran of helping the NYPD with hard-to-solve crimes. In this outing, the police encounter a bomb with a note attached to it bearing Eddie’s name. According to police intel, international criminals who have been foiled by Eddie in the past are looking for him. Stealing precious valuables located in famous New York City landmarks, including Grant’s Tomb, is also on the criminals’ agenda. Eddie has a relatable voice and is nimble when it comes to solving crime and avoiding trouble. This series is refreshing in that it features a realistic African American protagonist. Fans of the previous two installments will eagerly await the next adventure foreshadowed in the last few pages.

Wexler, Django. The Palace of Glass. 368p. (The Forbidden Library: Bk. 3). Penguin/Kathy Dawson Bks. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780803739789.

Gr 5-8–After the events of The Mad Apprentice, Alice is determined to find her uncle, who is responsible for the murder of her father. As she seeks further proof of her uncle’s crimes, she encounters many creatures that may or may not have her best interests in mind. Fans of the two previous books in the series will be delighted with this new entry, which is full of twists and turns. Wexler does an admirable job of building such a large world without contradictions or confusion. Those who are meeting these characters for the first time may find the first few chapters a bit confusing, since they go straight into the action (despite a small recap of what has happened before in the “Prologue”). It isn’t always clear-cut whether many of the characters are “good” or “evil.” Luckily, that makes them and this series irresistible for young readers.

Wight, Tamra. Mystery of the Missing Fox. illus. by Carl DiRocco. 203p. (Cooper & Packrat). Islandport. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781939017895.

Gr 4-7–A reality TV crew is coming to the Wilder Family Campground a week prior to the opening of camping season. Cooper Wilder helps but becomes distracted, resulting in his father getting injured. The neighbors come out and help them get the grounds ready for their close-up. Amid all of this, a litter of fox kits are slowly being stolen from the Wilder Family Campground. Cooper and his friends Packrat and Roy take it upon themselves to seek out the fox thieves. The dialogue among the youthful cast of characters is realistic and will be relatable to many readers. Full-page and spot illustrations are sprinkled throughout the text. Those new to the Wilders will be able to pick up the story with no problem.

This article was published in School Library Journal's May 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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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