September 29, 2016

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Middle Grade Xpress Reviews | October 2016

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A touching novel about two Dominican families’ dealing with tragedy on 9/11; a Quantum Leap–type romp for middle graders. These and more in this month’s crop of online-only reviews.

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

Paranormal Pals | SLJ Spotlight

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Most ghost stories are designed to send shivers up readers’ spines, but these three new books buck the trend, tackling a range of relatable themes via interactions with the not-so-scary recently deceased. There’s 13-year-old Andie, whose paranormal investigations help her grapple with loss; Baylor, a young teen who communes with his dead sister; and Ada, a goth girl who befriends a ghostly mouse. Engaging mystery, strong characters, and dashes of humor set these offerings apart from the typical ghoulish fare.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds | SLJ Review

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REYNOLDS, Jason. Ghost. 192p. (Track: Bk. 1). S. & S./Atheneum. Aug. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481450157.

Gr 5-9 –Castle “Ghost” Crenshaw lives with his single mother; his father is serving time in prison after firing a gun at Ghost and his mom three years ago—and Ghost has been running ever since. While running one day, he stops to watch a track practice and decides to crash the race. Impressed, the coach offers him a position on the team. His […]

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson | SLJ Review

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ANDERSON, John David. Ms. Bixby’s Last Day. 320p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Walden Pond. Jun. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062338174.

Gr 4-6 –In a school filled with instructors who are either Zombies (old and boring), Caff-Adds (jittery), Dungeon Masters (cruel), or Noobs (overachievers), Ms. Bixby stands out as one of the Good Ones. Topher, Steve, and Brand all have their reasons to treasure their sixth grade teacher. Readers find out early on that their beloved Ms. B. has cancer and has […]

When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin | SLJ Review

When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin

Lin, Grace. When the Sea Turned to Silver. illus. by Grace Lin. 384p. Little, Brown. Oct. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316125925; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316317696. POP  

Gr 3-6 –The Tiger Emperor is conscripting all the men of the mountain villages to build the Vast Wall surrounding the kingdom. But when they reach Pinmei’s village, they also take her grandmother, the Storyteller. In order to save her, Pinmei and her friend Yishan embark on a voyage […]

Unbound by Anne E. Burg | SLJ Review

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Burg, Ann E. Unbound. 352p. Scholastic. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545934275.

Gr 4-8 –Grace is a light-skinned, blue-eyed slave who is called to work in “The Big House,” leaving behind her family and friends in the fields. What she sees of the Master and Missus gives Grace even more motivation to escape, including Missus’s decision to sell members of Grace’s family at the auction block. Soon, Grace and her family flee to the Great Dismal […]

One Half from the East by Nadia Hashimi | SLJ Review

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Hashimi, Nadia. One Half from the East. 272p. HarperCollins. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062421906. 

Gr 4-8 –After Obayda’s policeman father loses a leg in a car bombing in Kabul, her family moves to a rural village to be near their extended relatives. When her father retreats from life because of his injury, an aunt suggests that the girl be allowed to be a bacha posh and live as a boy. Obayda would have a better […]

Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon by Torben Kuhlmann | SLJ Review

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Kuhlmann, Torben. Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon. illus. by Torben Kuhlmann. 128p. NorthSouth. Sept. 2016. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9780735842625. 

Gr 2-6 –Uniquely similar in artistic design and writing style to Kuhlmann’s Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse, this title relates the story of another clever mouse’s fascination with the moon, which, his telescope shows him, is actually “a giant ball of stone”—not the big ball of cheese that his friends […]

Sunker’s Deep by Lian Tanner | SLJ Review

Sunker’s Deep by Lian Tanner

Tanner, Lian. Sunker’s Deep. 304p. (The Icebreaker Trilogy: Bk. 2). Feiwel & Friends. Aug. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250052179. 

Gr 5-8 –Three crises get the action started quickly in this second installment of Tanner’s “Icebreaker” trilogy. There’s mutiny aboard the Oyster, which strands returning characters Petrel, Fin, Krill, and the captain in hostile territory controlled by a radical sect of Anti-Machinists. The friends’ only chance to get back to their ship lies with Sharkey, young captain […]

Nothing but Trouble by Jacqueline Davies | SLJ Review

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Davies, Jacqueline. Nothing but Trouble. 320p. (Nothing but Trouble: Bk. 1). HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Nov. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062369888. 

Gr 5-8 –Maggie’s friendship with Allie and Emily is not the only thing coming to an end. This is the last year Odawahoka Middle School will be in existence, and this year’s sixth grade is the final class. Classrooms have been shuttered, programs have been suspended, and labs have been locked up tight. As Maggie’s old […]

Hundred Percent by Karen Romano Young | SLJ Review

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Young, Karen Romano. Hundred Percent. 256p. Chronicle. Aug. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452138909. 

Gr 5-7 –Sixth grader Christine Gouda’s last year of elementary school is full of transitions as she begins the early stages of puberty and her friendship with her best friend, Jackie, changes. Christine’s mother has often called her Tink (short for Tinker Bell), and her classmates call her Hundred Percent, but Jackie suggests that she adopt a more grown-up nickname, Chris. As her […]

27 Magic Words by Sharelle Byars Moranville | SLJ Review

27 Magic Words by Sharelle Byars Moranville

Moranville, Sharelle Byars. 27 Magic Words. 208p. Holiday House. Jul. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780823436576; ebk. $16.95. ISBN 9780823437061. 

Gr 4-6 –Despite the titular magic, there is no fantasy in this quietly moving, well-paced work—just the reality of a child deep in denial ultimately coming to terms with her parents’ death. Ten-year-old Kobi and her older sister live in Paris with their grandmother, enjoying a seemingly enviable lifestyle: they are homeschooled by a tutor, dine on […]

Rebellion of Thieves by Kekla Magoon | SLJ Review

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Magoon, Kekla. Rebellion of Thieves. 256p. (A Robyn Hoodlum Adventure: Bk. 2). Bloomsbury. Oct. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781619636552. POP 

Gr 5-8 –Magoon immediately draws readers into the world of 12-year-old Robyn Loxley, who establishes her leadership in the rebellion against evil despot Ignomus Crown. Readers do not need to be familiar with book 1, but the story will be more satisfying for fans of the first novel. Robyn and her band of thieves have found […]

Getting In on the Action | SLJ Spotlight

Ryan Quinn and the Rebel’s Escape

For readers looking for books that will grab them, hold their attention, and leave them wanting more, these action packed titles will have readers humming the “Mission Impossible” theme song.

Middle Grade Xpress Reviews | August 2016

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A new selection for “Wimpy Kid” fans; adventure on the high seas; and historical fiction set in czarist Russia.

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

The Best Man by Richard Peck | SLJ Review

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Peck, Richard. The Best Man. 240p. Dial. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780803738393. 

Gr 4-6 –The inimitable Peck frames his latest novel with weddings. Opening with a flashback to a hilariously disastrous wedding when Archer Magill was in first grade, the book closes with a significantly more staid one that occurs when he is in sixth grade. Most of the story, though, takes place between these two events, during Archer’s fifth grade year. A military-based student […]

Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes | SLJ Review

Garvey's Choice by Nikki Grimes

Grimes, Nikki. Garvey’s Choice. 120p. Boyds Mills/Wordsong. Oct. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781629797403. 

Gr 4-8 –Grimes’s latest is a sensitively written middle grade novel in verse that takes its syllable count from Japanese tanka. Garvey is an overweight boy who is teased at school and whose father constantly prods him to be more like his athletic older sister, Angie. But Garvey has a best friend (Joe), an open heart (which leads him to a new friend, […]

The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart | SLJ Review

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Stewart, Trenton Lee. The Secret Keepers. illus. by Diana Sudyka. 512p. Little, Brown. Sept. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316389556; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316389563. 

Gr 5 Up –Parkour practitioner Reuben Pedley has been having a hard time since his mom lost her job and they had to move to a different (and poorer) part of the city. Friendless, he spends his days avoiding the Directions, the enforcement officers of the mysterious Smoke, who runs the city. On […]

Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LaFleur | SLJ Review

Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LaFleur

LaFleur, Suzanne. Beautiful Blue World. 224p. ebook available. Random/Wendy Lamb Bks. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385743006; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780375990892. 

Gr 5-8 –The country of Sofarende is at war. Mathilde and Megs, both 12, are best friends. When the military begins recruiting children for the war effort, their school holds an examination for students ages 12 to 14. Those who pass the test will be sent somewhere to help with the war effort. In […]

Moo by Sharon Creech | SLJ Review

Moo by Sharon Creech

Creech, Sharon. Moo. 288p. HarperCollins. Aug. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062415240. 

Gr 3-6 –Creech offers a memorable family story featuring an especially difficult cow. When Reena, 12, and her brother Luke, seven, move with their parents to Maine from the noisy bustle of New York City, lots of adjustments are required. The siblings appreciate each other and generally get along. The citified family is thrust into small-town life, and things get awkward when Reena’s parents force […]