Marty’s father is sick. The kind of sick with surprise hospital stays, weeks in bed, and not much talk of the future. When he first found out about the cancer, Marty’s dad got him a present: a jean jacket so that the two of them could collect buttons and pins to represent different memories during the time they had left together. It is Marty’s most prized possession. So when the jean jacket goes missing during one of Dad’s hospital stays, Marty is frantic. It can’t possibly be gone! That conviction that the jacket must be out there waiting for him somewhere reminds Marty of an old story his father used to tell him about the Train of Lost Things, a train that flies around the world at night collecting the lost precious possessions of children and holding onto them until they can find be returned to their owners. Desperate for his jacket, Marty sneaks out one night in search of the train and stumbles into an adventure beyond his wildest dreams.
In this touching coming of age story, a dose of fantasy helps Marty and the reader process the grief and loss of a loved one. About half of the book reads like realistic fiction, so this book will be most appealing to readers who enjoy both realistic fiction and fantasy, or fantasies that are heavily rooted in the real world, such as Savvy by Ingrid Law.
Xar, the son of the wizard king, is known for being a troublemaker–disobedient, destructive, leading his ragtag entourage of sprites and snow cats into all kinds of danger. And the fact that at thirteen his magic still hasn’t come in makes him even more unruly. Wish, the warrior princess, is downright weird. Her limp, her eyepatch, and her odd interests make her hardly fit to call herself a warrior. But the mischief of these two sworn enemies reaches new heights when two forbidden errands collide in the Badwoods. Xar has come to set a trap for a witch, the darkest, most evil magic creature ever to exist, which everyone believes are extinct, but whose magic Xar hopes to steal. Wish enters the Badwoods chasing her pet, an iron spoon that must be magic and is therefore thoroughly forbidden (much to her young Assistant Bodyguard’s anxiety). She also has a magic sword she found near her mother’s dungeon that has an inscription claiming that it kills witches. And unfortunately for both Wish and Xar, that sword may be blood-curdlingly necessary.
As much as this novel is the thrilling start to a creative and engaging new fantasy series, it is a coming of age tale for two very different protagonists, each struggling to find a place in their respective society and to work through a complicated relationship with their respective intimidating parent. I suspect that the cheeky omniscient narrator would have annoyed me had I not been listening to the brilliantly performed audiobook. But otherwise, I loved everything about it. Can’t wait for the next installment!
I highly recommend the audiobook (performed by David Tennant), a well-deserved Odyssey Award Honor recording.
For the kids who’ve read everything…here’s some new stuff! These books are slated to come out 2018 (although exact release dates may change). I haven’t read these yet, so summaries and age ranges are based on promotional materials from the publishers and advance reviews.
All books below are for middle grade readers (grades 4-6). I’ll be posting new YA announcements next week!
Continuing Series for Middle Grades
Fenway and Hattie Up to New Tricks by Victoria J. Coe (1/2)
Book 3 of Fenway and Hattie. Ages 8-12.
A Sky Full of Stars by Linda Williams Jackson (1/2)
Sequel to Midnight Without a Moon. Ages 8-12.
The Terrible Two Go Wild by Mac Barnett and Jory John (1/9)
Book 3 of The Terrible Two. Ages 8-12.
The Uncanny Express by Kara LaReau (1/9)
Book 2 of The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters. Ages 8-12.
War of the Realms by Kate O’Hearn (1/9)
Book 3 of Valkyrie. Ages 9-13.
Waking the Monsters by Judd Winick (1/16)
Book 4 of Hilo. Ages 8-12.
Dark Wyng by Chris d’Lacey (1/30)
Book 2 of Erth Dragons. Ages 8-12.
Dragon Overnight by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins (1/30)
Book 4 of Upside Down Magic. Ages 8-12.
A Warp in Time by Jude Watson (1/30)
Book 3 of Horizon. Ages 9-12.
Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce (2/6)
Book 1 in a new Tortall series. Ages 10 & up.
The Oceans Between Stars by Kevin Emerson (2/13)
Book 2 of Chronicle of the Dark Star. Ages 8-12.
Iron Tide Rising by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis (2/13)
Final book of The Map to Everywhere. Ages 8-12.
Boggart Fights Back by Susan Cooper (2/27)
A Boggart book. Ages 8-12.
Revenge of the Beetle Queen by M.G. Leonard (2/27)
Sequel to Beetle Boy. Ages 8-12.
A Side of Sabotage by C.M. Surrisi (3/1)
A Quinnie Boyd Mystery. Ages 9-14.
Phoenix Burning by Bryony Pearce (3/10)
Book 2 of Phoenix. Ages 10 & up.
Bat and the Waiting Game by Elana K. Arnold (3/27)
Sequel to A Boy Called Bat. Ages 8-12.
The Crooked Castle by Sarah Jean Horowitz (4/10)
Book 2 of Carmer and Grit. Ages 10-13.
Sunny by Jason Reynolds (4/10)
Book 3 of Track. Ages 10 & up.
Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz (4/24)
A Descendants novel. Ages 8-12.
Waste of Space by Stuart Gibbs (4/24)
Book 3 of Moon Base Alpha. Ages 8-12.
Lost in the Jungle by Bill Nye and Greg Mone (5/1)
Book 3 of Jack and the Geniuses. Ages 8-12.
The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan (5/1)
Book 3 of the Trials of Apollo. Ages 10 & up.
Worlds Apart by James Riley (5/20)
Book 5 of Story Thieves. Ages 8-12.
Sandapalooza Shake-Up by Chris Grabenstein (5/22)
Book 3 of Welcome to Wonderland. Ages 8-12.
Evil Emperor Penguin: Strikes Back by Laura Ellen Anderson (5/29)
Book 2 of Evil Emperor Penguin. Ages 8-12.
Griffin’s Feather by Cornelia Funke (7/31)
Sequel to Dragon Rider. Ages 8-12.
The Law of Finders Keepers by Sheila Turnage (9/11)
Conclusion to Mo & Dale Mysteries. Ages 10 & up.
Fantasy & Sci Fi for Middle Grades
The Eternity Elixir by Frank L. Cole (1/2)
A young potion master must prevent a dangerous elixir from falling into the wrong hands. Ages 10 & up.
Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly (1/2)
A girl with shadow magic faces a dilemma when her own shadow takes on a devious life of its own. Ages 8-14.
Flower Moon by Gina Linko (1/2)
An evil force in the moon threatens to push two “mirror twins” apart for good. Ages 8-12.
Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano (1/2)
A girl eager to begin her family tradition of baking magic decides to try a little spell on her own with unintended consequences. Ages 8-12.
The Last Gargoyle by Paul Durham (1/9)
A lonely gargoyle must seek a human ally when the Boneless King seeks to take his ward. Ages 8-12.
Magic, Madness, and Mischief by Kelly McCullough (1/9)
A boy with fire magic must learn to control his powers in order to save his mother from the Winter King. Ages 10-14.
The Unicorn Quest by Kamilla Benko (1/30)
Two sisters discover a magical world in turmoil and embark on a journey to find the lost unicorns. Ages 8-12.
The Problim Children by Natalie Lloyd (1/30)
Seven children in a quirky family find themselves caught in the dastardly schemes of their nosy neighbors. Ages 8-12.
Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire by John August (2/6)
After joining an unusual scout troop, a boy learns to harness the power of the forest to survive a dangerous adventure. Ages 8-12.
The Song of Seven by Tonke Dragt (2/6)
A mysterious letter pulls a notorious teller of tall-tales into a series of far-fetched adventures. Ages 8-12.
Granted by John David Anderson (2/13)
A young wish-granting fairy finds her first assignment more difficult than she had expected. Ages 8-12.
Sci-Fi Junior High: Crash Landing by Scott Seegert and John Martin (2/20)
The new kid must save his outer space junior high school from a mad scientist. Ages 8-11.
Clem Hetherington and the Ironwood Race by Jen Breach (2/27)
In this graphic novel, a girl and her robot brother escape an orphanage and enter a high-stakes rally race, hoping to win archaeological artifacts to continue their late mother’s legacy. Ages 8-12.
The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta (2/27)
A sixth-grader discovers that she is an Indian princess from another dimension when demons abduct her parents. Ages 8-12.
Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans (2/27)
After being transported to a fantasy world, four kids must unravel clues to defeat an evil stuffed animal. Ages 8-12.
The Super-Life of Ben Braver by Marcus Emerson (3/6)
A non-powered boy stumbles upon a school for young superheroes and joins up. Ages 8-12.
The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras (3/6)
After her family is captured, the youngest member of a Scottish war band must embark on a dangerous journey to rescue them. Ages 9-12.
Buttheads from Outer Space by Jerry Mahoney (3/6)
Two friends accidentally invite a gross butt-headed alien race to conquer the earth. Ages 8-12.
A Bad Night for Bullies by Gary Ghislain (3/13)
The daughter of a horror novelist gives a boy “the stone of the dead” and his bullies begin being haunted. Ages 8-12.
Bone’s Gift by Angie Smibert (3/20)
In a 1942 coal mining town, a girl with a gift for seeing visions when she touches inanimate objects must accept her gift and come to terms with her mother’s death. Ages 9-12.
Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender (3/27)
An unlucky girl struggles with the crush she has on her best friend as the two girls venture out in a hurricane to look for her mother and escape the spirit that is following her. Ages 8-12.
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi (3/27)
Trying to prove that an ancient lamp is cursed, a girl accidentally awakens a demon and must embark on a quest to free her mother and classmates from its curse. Ages 9-12.
Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien (4/3)
A young figure skating martial artist must track down a vandal to clear her name in time for a competition. Ages 10-14.
How to Sell Your Family to the Aliens by Paul Noth (4/3)
In an attempt to get rid of his grandma, a boy accidentally sells his whole family to aliens. Ages 8-12.
Maggie and Abby’s Neverending Pillow Fort by Will Taylor (4/3)
Two girls building a pillow fort discover an international network of magically interconnected pillow forts and wind up on the wrong side of “the authorities.” Ages 8-12.
The Unflushables by Ron Bates (4/10)
A boy and a team of plumber superheroes must protect the city from sewer mutants. Ages 8-12.
The Lifters by Dave Eggers (4/24)
Two girls descend into a world of underground tunnels to stop a mysterious evil force from destroying their town. Ages 8-12.
Endling #1: The Last by Katherine Applegate (5/1)
The last survivor in a species of mythical canines seeks a sanctuary as she flees from those who hunt her. Ages 8-12.
Evangeline of the Bayou by Jan Eldredge (5/1)
An aspiring haunt huntress and her grandmother uncover a terrifying secret on a trip to New Orleans. Ages 8-12.
The Rose Legacy by Jessica Day George (5/1)
In a world where horses have been banned, a girl discovers her ability to communicate with them telepathically. Ages 8-12.
The Haunted Serpent by Dora M. Mitchell (6/5)
The son of a TV ghost hunter meets his dead next door neighbor and begins to investigate the strange goings-on in an abandoned factory. Ages 8-11.
Not So Normal Norbert by James Patterson with Joey Green (7/3)
After getting caught mocking the supreme leader of Earth, a boy is banished to a wacky astronaut camp on another planet. Ages 8-12.
Nightbooks by J.A. White (7/24)
A boy survives his imprisonment by telling a witch scary stories. Ages 8-12.
Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk (7/31)
After receiving a magic sketchbook, a sixth grader draws herself a best friend, who comes to life with unexpected consequences. Ages 8-12.
Historical Fiction for Middle Grades
Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai (1/2)
At the start of the Arab Spring, a young girl and her family must flee their home in Aleppo. Ages 8-12.
The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis (1/30)
Hoping to pay off his late father’s debts, a boy agrees to track down some fugitive slaves before having a change of heart. Ages 9-12.
The Sound of Freedom by Kathy Kacer (3/13)
A family hopes that auditions for a Jewish orchestra in Palestine will help them escape 1930s Poland. Ages 9-12.
When the Crickets Stopped Singing by Marilyn Cram Donahue (3/20)
A girl must defy the trusting adults in her 1930s community when she realizes the new man in town poses a danger to her and her friends. Ages 10-14.
Hardscrabble by Sandra Dallas (9/15)
In 1910, a girl and her family move west to accept the government’s offer of a free homestead farm. Ages 8-11.
Mystery & Adventure for Middle Grades
Samantha Spinner and the Super-Secret Plans by Russell Ginns (2/13)
A girl’s uncle disappears, leaving her an old umbrella and a mysterious clue that draw her into a super secret adventure. Ages 8-12.
The World Below by Wesley King (3/6)
An eighth grade field trip turns into a survival adventure when students wind up unchaperoned in a lake in the bottom of Carlsbad Caverns. Ages 8-12.
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson (3/27)
After discovering a letter in the attic, a girl tries to unravel the clues to her family’s dark past. Ages 8-12.
The Elephant Thief by Jane Kerr (3/27)
A young pickpocket-turned-zoo employee must ride an elephant from Edinburgh to Manchester despite opposition from the dubious characters in his past. Ages 8-12.
Realistic Fiction for Middle Grades
TBH, This Is So Awkward by Lisa Greenwald
A story of friendships and cyberbullying told entirely in texts. Ages 8-12.
Funny Kid for President by Matt Stanton (1/2)
A troublemaker once accused of pooping in a school closet runs for class president in this illustrated novel. Ages 8-12.
Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard (1/2)
A girl tries to figure out how she fits into her family as her grandfather and guardian battles Alzheimer’s. Ages 8-12.
All Three Stooges by Erica S. Perl (1/9)
When his grief-stricken best friend shuts him out, a boy tries to rekindle their friendship and the sense of humor they once shared. Ages 8-12.
Ellie, Engineer by Jackson Pearce (1/16)
A young aspiring engineer hopes to build an elaborate gift for her friend’s birthday. Ages 8-12.
The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor (1/23)
A boy becomes the victim of bullying when his best friend is found dead on his family’s property. Ages 8-12.
Smart Cookie by Elly Swartz (1/30)
Hoping to repair the hole that her mom’s death left in their family, a girl secretly posts a dating profile for her dad online. Ages 8-12.
Strongheart: Wonder Dog of the Silver Screen by Candace Fleming (2/6)
An illustrated novel based on the true story of a 1920s canine actor. Ages 8-12.
The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley by April Stevens (2/6)
An aspiring anthropologist who prefers to be an observer struggles to find a place with the other people in her community. Ages 8-12.
Like Vanessa by Tami Charles (3/13)
Inspired by her idol, Vanessa Williams, a middle school girl enters a beauty pageant and discovers her own self-worth. Ages 10 & up.
A Possibility of Whales by Karen Rivers (3/13)
Hoping to find her estranged mother, a girl embarks on a journey of self-discovery. Ages 8-12.
Without Refuge by Jane Mitchel (4/1)
A young teen and his family flee the war in Syria and seek refuge in Turkey. Ages 9-12.
My Life In Smiley: It’s All Good by Anne Kalicky (4/3)
A boy uses a journal full of smiley faces to chronicle his life in middle school abroad. Ages 9-12.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (4/17)
After being killed by police officers who thought he was holding a weapon, a boy’s ghost meets Emmett Till and together they try to process the racism that led to their deaths. Ages 8-12. [Technically fantasy due to the ghosts, but the subject matter and interest is clearly realistic fiction.]
Storm Chasers by Ginger Zee (4/24)
A young aspiring meteorologist gets caught out on a horse ride during a dangerous storm. Ages 9-12.
Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins (5/15)
Two sisters make an unforgettable first trip to the beach in this illustrated novel. Ages 8-12.
Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno (6/5)
A girl searches for hope when her family becomes homeless. Ages 8-12.
The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell (6/5)
A group of kids build a small civilization out of cardboard and use their big imaginations to explore big issues in their real lives. Ages 8-12.
Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin (7/3)
While her father struggles to keep the farm going in the midst of a drought, a girl struggles with her mother’s mental illness. Ages 8-12.
Rising Above Shepherdsville by Ann Schoenbohm (8/28)
After her mother’s suicide, a girl find peace and healing at her aunt’s home in rural Ohio. Ages 8-12.
Harper has a musical gift. She can play any instrument she picks up, although she’s not sure that any single one of them feels like a true fit for her. She doesn’t know where her gift came from–or even where she came from. Five years ago, she floated down from the sky during the Fearsome Storm, holding a scarlet umbrella. But when she and her friends see a mysterious girl running on the clouds and discover a mysterious circus in the sky, they embark on an adventure that promises to reveal more secrets than one.
A cute, imaginative story, sequel to Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella, which reads with a similar tone to the Daisy Meadows Rainbow Magic series. The series might be a good next step for readers moving on from those smaller, more formulaic transition chapter books.
Rosa Diaz doesn’t know why her mother, the best Appeasment Specialist any haunted library had ever seen, would want to move to a town with no ghosts. Well, she does know why, but she doesn’t like it. They shouldn’t be trying to escape the memory of her father’s death. They should be honoring him. And living in an unhaunted town is just creepy. But as Rosa explores her new town, she realizes that it isn’t the unhauntedness unsettling her. Ingot is definitely haunted, but in a strange way, and for some reason, none of the inhabitants seem to see or remember the hauntings. With the help of Jasper, a Renaissance Faire squire, Rosa sets out to discover what is haunting Ingot and why.
An enjoyable mystery with two engaging young heroes, this story has both humor and intrigue to keep even a reluctant reader engrossed–plus enough depth of character and theme to make it enjoyable for the perceptive reader as well. I’d recommend it to middle grade fans of mystery, fantasy, and non-scary ghost stories.
Nell Perkins’ world has never been perfectly normal. After all, “normal” people don’t tend to see those around them with animal heads lurking beneath their outer facade of humanity. Everyone seems to think Nell is crazy, except her mother, Rose. Rose treats Nell and her brothers like the most important and special people in the world and helps Nell keep a grip on reality. But when her mother is swallowed up by a giant skull shaped cloud and taken prisoner by the Dark Daughters, Nell knows for sure that she is not crazy. This is reality. And since she seems to be the only one who can see it, it will be up to her, her brothers, and the eccentric old man down the street to travel through the Dreamlands and rescue Rose from a world of nightmares.
This novel was enjoyable, but heavy on explication and light on character development. The subject matter of this book is reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s work, but lacks the grounding in traditional folklore that makes the latter so compelling. I would recommend it to middle grade fantasy readers who like their stories a little dark, but aren’t too worried about thematic depth.
Farah sometimes hates having to spend all her time with her little brother, Ahmad. She knows that his ADD makes it difficult for him sometimes and that she should be nice. But on her birthday? When her two best friends from her old town have come to the new house to spend time with her? Thinking she has finally shaken him off, Farah, Essie, and Alex slip upstairs to open Farah’s present from her Aunt Zohra. But Ahmad has gotten there first, tearing off the paper and discovering what seems to be a game called the Gauntlet of Blood and Sand. Farah has a bad feeling about it. It seems to have a heartbeat. And when they open it up, the game grows before their eyes into a miniature maze-like tower, almost like a whole city. Before they can stop him, An excited Ahmad leaps into the game and vanishes. It turns out The Gauntlet was not meant to be Farah’s birthday present. The Gauntlet is the harrowing, sentient game that stole Aunt Zohra’s best friend decades ago–a game that Aunt Zohra has kept ever since to keep other children from becoming ensnared. But now it is too late, and Ahmad’s only hope is for Farah, Essie, and Alex to enter the game world as well, to win each of the Architect’s challenges, and to make it out alive.
A neat read, this book is a sort of Middle Eastern Jumanji. The game world is richly imagined, and the challenges the children face remind me of The Mysterious Benedict Society. Young readers who enjoy fantasy that is rooted in the real world and/or books with riddles and puzzles should check it out.