June 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Mermaids, Pirates, and Terrifying Tales | Middle Grade Series Update

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1510-WEB-MiddleGr-Strip1Baldacci, David. The Keeper. 448p. (Vega Jane: Bk. 2). Scholastic. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545831949; ebk. $17.99. ISBN 9780545833158.

Gr 5 Up –In this sequel to The Finisher (Scholastic, 2014), Vega Jane must fight against the Quag in order to leave Wormwood for the wider world she knows lies beyond—but the terrors of the Quag prove more daunting than she or best friend Delph ever imagined. This is a high-octane, action-heavy continuation of the series. Readers get to know a bit more about Vega Jane as her powers continue to develop, though answers about the wider world and divisions in the society are still left open, perhaps to be addressed in the next installment. Purchase where the first one flew off shelves.

Campbell, Isaiah. The Struggles of Johnny Cannon. 336p. S. & S. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481426312.

Gr 4-6 –In this historical fiction/action series set in the early 1960s, Johnny and his father are struggling with the recent death of his older brother Tommy, who presumably died while fighting in Korea. A young Korean woman soon appears at their doorstep, pregnant with Tommy’s child. Meanwhile, the 12-year-old is confused about the crush he has on his friend Martha, and somehow finds himself embroiled in a Mafia blood feud. The pace is fast and furious, with multiple themes and storylines vying for attention. Though some readers may have difficulty keeping track of everything going on, fans of action-adventure and mid-century history will enjoy Johnny’s vernacular first-person narrative. Buy where there are fans of the first book, The Troubles of Johnny Cannon (S. & S., 2014).

Cummings, Lindsay. The Pillars of Ponderay. 384p. (Balance Keepers: Bk. 2). HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062275219.

Gr 4-6 –In the first book, The Fires of Calderon, Alber Flynn learned that he is a Balance Keeper, beings who live in underground realms and use their magical skills to fix problems and keep the Earth in balance. In this follow-up, after saving his hometown of New York City, Albert returns to the Core to find it in dire straits. This time, the imbalance threatens to destroy California. With a dash of Rick Riordan, a sprinkle of Harry Potter, and a nod to Journey to the Center of the Earth, this adventure-filled series keeps the stakes high and the world-building sufficient but uncomplicated. Great fun for middle grade fans of the above-mentioned titles.

Feinstein, John. The Sixth Man. 304p. (The Triple Threat: Bk. 2). ebook available. Knopf. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385753500; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780385753517.

Gr 5-8 –Football fans are in for a treat. In The Walk On, high school freshman Alex Myers proved his talent. This time out, a new player has joined the team. Max Bellotti is a promising athlete with tons of potential, but the older players resent Max and Alex, and things only get more complicated when Max comes out as gay. Gripping and action packed, this work also folds in some important and challenging questions along with the drama of the game. Sports fans who enjoy their fiction infused with some food for thought will appreciate this latest installment.

Gibbs, Stuart. Big Game. 352p. (A FunJungle Novel). S. & S. Oct. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481423335.

Gr 4-6 –Teddy “Roosevelt” Fitzroy, whose parents work at the animal theme park FunJungle, is a veteran at solving zoo mysteries: he’s already discovered who killed Henry the Hippo and found a missing koala. This time, someone attempts to kill Rhonda Rhino, and Teddy must find out who—and, at the same time, keep Rhonda safe from harm. Mystery fans are in for a treat—there’s action, adventure, and plot turns a-plenty—and budding biologists will appreciate the animal information folded into the text.

Harrell, Rob. The Troll Who Cried Wolf. 272p. (Life of Zarf: Bk. 2). Dial. 2015. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780803741041.

Gr 4-6 –Put-upon Zarf, a troll, is on the bottom of his school’s pecking order, but with his equally maladroit best friends, Chester Flintwater, (who lacks any talent for humor, despite being the son of a jester) and Kevin Littlepig, the neurotic son of the smartest pig, he’s in good company. Harrell’s fractured fairy tale world is full of irreverent humor sure to please fans of fractured fairy tales or all things snarky. Spot art with speech bubbles has a cartoon feel that complements the text and will attract reluctant readers.

Keating, Jess. How to Outfox Your Friends When You Don’t Have a Clue. 320p. (My Life Is a Zoo: Bk. 3). Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. Oct. 2015. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781492617945.

Gr 4-6 –Middle school can be a jungle under the best of circumstances. For Ana Wright, whose family moved across the world to New Zealand to live in a zoo in the series opener, every day is an adventure. Her best friend, Liv, is coming to visit, and Ana’s psyched—till Liz shows up with a new look and attitude. Keating has crafted another engaging work that will speak to readers anxious about navigating social situations—and the fun animal factoids interspersed add to the fun,

Kessler, Liz. Emily Windsnap and the Ship of Lost Souls. 288p. (Emily Windsnap: Bk. 6). Candlewick. 2015. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763676889.

Gr 4-6 –Everyone’s favorite half-mermaid is back in this sixth series installment. Emily Windsnap and love interest Aaron are the only ones who can see a mysterious, ghostly ship. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the pair must transport the vessel’s passengers back to land before the entrance to Atlantis closes forever. Action-packed scenes and poignant characters make this entry as unputdownable as the previous volumes.

Nelson, Peter. Creature Keepers and the Swindled Soil-Soles. illus. by Rohitash Rao. 384p. (Creature Keepers: Bk. 2). Balzer + Bray. 2015. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780062236456.

Gr 4-6 –The Skunk Ape, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Yeti: oh my! Mythological (or so we thought) beasts are the draw in this adventure-laden series. Jordan and Abbie are members of Creature Keepers, an organization devoted to keeping these beasts, who are crucial to the Earth’s environment, safe. The two are on their way to Canada for the summer, where this time they’ll be protecting none other than Bigfoot. While this initially proves an easy task, a reality show host throws a few hurdles Jordan and Abbie’s way. This goofy, laugh-a-minute romp is certain to keep readers giggling, and the use of spot art only adds to the fun.

Pastis, Stephan. Timmy Failure: Sanitized for Your Protection. illus. by Stephan Pastis. 144p. (Timmy Failure: Bk. 4). ebook available. Candlewick. 2015. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780763680923.

Gr 3-6 –Timmy, Total, Timmy’s mom, Doorman Dave, and Molly Moskins head out on a road trip to the Windy City. As in past titles, Pastis offers a charming blend of over-the-top silliness, clever humor, and heart-tugging sweetness. His cartoon art throughout adds a slapstick appeal and heightens the chuckle factor. A must-purchase for fans of the series.

Pichon, Liz. Everything’s Amazing (Sort Of). illus. by Liz Pichon. 416p. (Tom Gates). ebook available. Candlewick. 2015. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780763674731.

Gr 3-6 –The third book in this British import sees Tom anxiously awaiting his birthday. In fact, he’s even gone so far as to post a long list of his preferred birthday presents—but no one seems to be paying it any mind. To make matters worse, the school dance is coming up and his dad might be serving as the DJ, wearing a dinosaur getup! Like the previous books, this features doodles and illustrations on every page, in a similar vein to “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” With laugh-out-loud humor and funny family drama, this will be devoured by fans of Greg Heffley.

Roy, Carter. The Glass Gauntlet. 262p. (The Blood Guard: Bk. 2). ebook available. Amazon/Two Lions. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781477826263; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781477827154.

Gr 4-6 –Ronan Truelove, the boy who, in Book 1, discovered that his father is an evil member of the Bend Sinister, a faction fighting over control of the Pure, now determines to join the Blood Guard, the secret society sworn to protect the Pure. Along with friends Greta and Sammy, Ronan must participate in the Glass Gauntlet, a series of tests and competitions. With strong character development, edge-of-your-seat pacing, and fairly rich world-building, this is a strong sequel. Hand to readers of fantasy and adventure—and be prepared to purchase the subsequent sequels.

Schulz, Heidi. The Pirate Code. illus. by John Hendrix. 352p. (Hook’s Revenge). Disney-Hyperion. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781484717172.

Gr 4-6 –Following on the heels of Hook’s Revenge (Disney-Hyperion, 2014), which received an SLJ star, Schulz offers another rip-roaring, high seas adventure starring the daring Jocelyn Hook, daughter of the infamous Captain Hook. In this tale, the young seafarer takes command of the ship and is determined to find his father’s long lost treasure. With a salty and sardonic narrator and chuckle-worthy dialogue, this sequel can be enjoyed as a stand-alone, though readers will likely want to start with the first book.

Scieszka, Jon, ed. Terrifying Tales. 256p. (Guys Read Series). ebook available. Walden Pond Press. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062385581; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780062385574.

Gr 4-78 –Eleven authors offer slightly scary tales in this collection of short stories edited by Scieszka and illustrated by Gris Grimly. Suspenseful works will engage reluctant readers and the creepy but funny entries will introduce newbies to an array of accomplished and up-and-coming authors, such as Kelly Barnhill, Adam Gidwitz, Adele Griffin, and of course, R.L. Stine. Spine-tingling fun.

Waugh, Sandra. Silver Eve. 384p. (Guardians of Tarnec: Bk. 2). Random. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780449817520; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780449817537.

Gr 6 Up –Eve is a Healer whose beloved has died. She no longer has the will to live, but has recently discovered that she is the Guardian of Death, one of four young people charged with seeking powerful amulets that have been stolen. Each of the amulets has to be recovered in order to keep the world in balance. This atmospheric series entry will entice fans of Kristin Cashore and Juliet Mariller and easily stands alone, though fantasy lovers will want to devour the prequel Lark Rising (Random, x) and future installments.

Whitesides, Tyler. Heroes of the Dustbin. 416p. (Janitors: Bk. 5). Shadow Mountain. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781629720654.

Gr 4-8 –In this final volume of the rollicking and fantastically gross series, Spencer and his Rebel friends join the magical Janitors in the ultimate battle against the Witches and their minions, the Sweepers, to save the world from mind-numbing education. With surprising twists and turns, former janitor Whitesides’s conclusion will delight fans. Recommended for collections where the previous entries have flown off the shelf.

This article was published in School Library Journal's October 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.