April 26, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

JLG’s On the Radar: Middle School Novels with Strong Male Characters

The Bully Book coverA sixth grade boy finds a notebook that explains how to create a “Grunt” (a loser of losers), and lead a gang of bullies. One boy’s mother walks out on his father, leaving him divided in his loyalties. Another young man fights demons within himself, putting his own life in danger. A middle schooler wants to be a standup comedian―except he’s in a wheelchair. Though facts and figures often grab the interests of middle school boys, adventure, fantasy, and reality stories also weigh into their decision-making when it comes to choosing books. The following titles will not only entertain middle grade readers, but help them see that they are not alone in trying to survive middle school.

GALE, Eric Kahn. The Bully Book: A Novel. HarperCollins/Harper. 2013. ISBN 9780062125118. JLG Level: HIM : High Interest Middle School (Grades 5–8).

“The Grunt is a person. But it is also something you create. By the time you’re done, the Grunt will be the loser of all losers to everyone in your class. Your job is to make it happen.” Written in a handbook that has been passed down for years is the secret to being popular: choosing one person to be the bottom of the social order. In doing so, you become the leader of your grade. However, the handbook is secret until Eric becomes the Grunt. He finds a clue that makes him determined to change his course and maybe protect those “grunts” to come. Will he find the Bully book? Who wrote it and why? Can a kid really change his place in the social order? Can he stop the bullies?

Told in chapters alternating between the Bully Book and Eric’s journal, readers will cringe at the bullying tactics and cheer for those who stand up to their aggressors.

Boy in front of pile of garbageKLISE, Kate. Homesick. Feiwel and Friends. 2012. ISBN 9781250008428. JLG Level: C : Advanced Readers (Grades 6–9).

In 1983 (before the internet) the idea of a computer network is ludicrous. Radio is popular and everyone knows your business. In a small Missouri town, Benny has his hands full. His dad is a collector whose findings begin to take over the house. When his mom walks out, Benny is torn between his love for his mother and his loyalty to his father. His dad finds out that his son is cleaning the house for a school service project and goes ballistic―even calling to shout at the teacher. The boy even gets in trouble for throwing away stacks of pizza boxes. Benny realizes his father is more than a collector: he has a serious problem, and he needs help. The radio, the town clean-up project, and a fake piano recital might just do the trick.

Known for her works for middle grade readers, Klise delivers a powerful story about divorce, truth-telling, and the every-day challenges of life. With an amazing cast of characters, Homesick celebrates the importance of building relationships.

Freakling book coverKRUMWIEDE, Lana. Freakling. Candlewick. 2012. ISBN 9780763659370. JLG Level: FM : Fantasy/Science Fiction Middle (Grades 5–8).

Taemon has always known he had powers that should be kept secret. He can see into an object and know how to make it work. “Be it so!” Without saying a word―without using his hands, everyone in the dystopian land of Deliverance can make it be so. Those without powers (or psi) are cast out. Taemon chooses not to use his powers for evil, and gives them up. He uses his knack for tinkering to hide his psi-less condition. Older brother Yens has a thirst for power and will stop at nothing―not even threatening the life of his brother―to get it. He will be the True Son. What is Taemon’s destiny? Will he be a freakling and forced to use labor instead of his mind? Has he really lost all his psi? What does it mean when the Elder Naseph changes the prophecy of the True Son’s purpose? How can Taemon battle the oncoming evil with no psi-power to stop it?

Krumwiede’s debut novel will rivet readers and hold them captive until its thrilling conclusion.

Boy wearing funny mustache glassesPATTERSON, James and Chris Grabenstein. I Funny: A Middle School Story. illus. by Laura Park. Little, Brown. 2012. ISBN 9780316206938. JLG Level: HIM : High Interest Middle School (Grades 5–8).

“No, I’m Jamie Grimm.” Delivering the punch line before the joke wasn’t his plan, but sometimes in the nerves of things, the unthinkable happens. Jamie also never planned to be an orphan in a wheelchair, but he makes the best of it. His humor keeps his spirits up, leaving echoes of laughter wherever he goes. He even stands up to the school bully, who happens to be his new adoptive brother. It seems that nothing can hold him back until he decides to enter the Funniest Kid Comic Contest. Can Jamie overcome his stage fright? What heavy burden is Jamie carrying?

Written in short chapters and full of jokes boys can use for their own material, Patterson and Grabenstein share a tale for kids who deal with disabilities, bullies, and other burdens far too heavy for kids their age.

Becoming Holmes Book coverPEACOCK, Shane. Becoming Holmes: The Boy Sherlock Holmes, His Final Case.  Tundra. 2012. ISBN  9781770492325. JLG Level: MM : Mystery/Adventure Middle & HS (Grades 7–11).

With the death of Charles Dickens, Sherlock Holmes sees immortality everywhere he looks. Now an orphan with a gravely ill sponsor, he sinks deeper into melancholy until he is literally kicked out of the lab. Stumbling upon yet another mystery, the young detective is determined to bring in his arch enemy, Malefactor, at last. Grimsby could not have gotten the job on his own merit. What secret is the Governor of the Bank of England hiding? Can he stop the infiltration of his nemesis before it is too late?

Peacock lays the groundwork for the most well-known detective. What motivated him to detach himself from his work? To efficiently analyze everyone he meets? To see details that no one else sees? Though the novel is the last of the series, it stands well as a story all on its own.

For ideas about how to use these books and links to supportive sites, check out the Junior Library Guild blog, Shelf Life.


Junior Library Guild is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at www.JuniorLibraryGuild.com.


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Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.