Kids Contemporary Fiction

TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH by Beth Vrabel

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

Trixy’s excellent storytelling ability came from her grandmother. While her grandma was alive, Trixy spent hours just soaking up her stories. She knows them all by heart. But in the six months since the traumatic accident that took her grandma’s life, the stories have been causing nothing but trouble. Trixy isn’t listening to her teacher, isn’t even getting her homework done, because she can’t stop telling stories. When her teacher suggests that she start writing down memoirs to get the storytelling out of her system, it’s her grandmother’s stories that pour out onto the page. The stories are so captivating and inspirational that they start changing people’s lives–not just Trixy’s, but her classmates’ and even her teacher’s. It seems like a no-brainer that Trixy should submit the stories to the library’s nonfiction writing competition. The only problem is that the judges can’t believe that the stories could possibly be true. Trixy is certain that all of her grandma’s stories are based in fact–after all, her grandmother hated liars–and she intends to prove it. But to do that, she’s going to have to stow away on the adventure of a lifetime…

This spirited, heartfelt middle grade novel has a strong, memorable voice and an exciting plot that make it hard to put down. But the core of the story is family and the life-changing power of story. Recommend to readers in grades 4-6 who enjoy contemporary fiction with humorous, quirky narrators.

Featured Booklist: Book Club Titles for Kids and Teens

Posted on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

The school year is underway, and whether you’re a teacher or librarian running a book club or a parent stockpiling good reading material for those inevitable Covid-exposure quarantines, I have a book list for you!

This list includes titles for upper elementary schoolers, middle schoolers, and high schoolers. All of the books were released within the last year, and they have a blend of unputdownable storytelling and though-provoking thematic content. As always, you will need to evaluate the individual titles to be sure they fit within the specific parameters and needs of your students/children, but think of this list as your launchpad.

I will continue to curate this list throughout the year, but titles include:

FAST PITCH by Nic Stone, a middle grade sports story about a girl combatting racial injustice while vying for a softball championship.

NIGHTINGALE by Deva Fagan, a middle-grade fantasy about an orphan thief, a reluctant prince, a magic sword, and worker’s rights in a racially diverse, Victorian-London-esque fantasy world.

GENERATION MISFITS by Akemi Dawn Bowman, a middle grade contemporary novel about four social outcasts and one popular girl who find friendship and the courage to express themselves through their mutual love of J-Pop.

ZARA HOSSAIN IS HERE by Sabina Khan, a YA contemporary novel about a Pakistani Muslim immigrant wrestling questions of home, identity, and belonging after a bigot targets her family with hateful vandalism.

VIOLET GHOSTS by Leah Thomas, a YA historical fantasy about a transgender boy in the ’90s coming to terms with his identity as he helps restless ghosts find justice and a safe haven in the afterlife.

THE DARKNESS OUTSIDE US by Eliot Schrefer, a YA sci-fi about two young men from rival countries on a mission to rescue a fellow spacefarer aboard a ship that may or may not be trying to kill them.

Check out the full list on Bookshop.org. (Don’t worry if you’re not looking to buy; just see what titles look good to you, then find them at your local or school library!)

HOW TO WIN A SLIME WAR by Mae Respicio

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Alex is thrilled to be moving the summer before sixth grade, and not just because he’s going to get to help his dad take over the Filipino grocery store after his grandparents’ retirement. At his new school hell finally have the chance to be a popular kid–to reinvent himself as something other than the weird kid who makes slime.

But Alex never imagined that at his new school, the popular kids are the kids who make slime. In fact, slime is so popular among the sixth graders that the teachers have forbidden it on school property, leading to a thriving illicit some trade on the playground. When Alex accidentally sells in someone else’s territory, there’s only one remedy: a slime war, Alex vs. the monopoly-holder, Meadow. Winner has exclusive rights to sell in the neighborhood. But winning isn’t going to be easy. With his dad on his case to give up slime and join a soccer team, trouble at the family store, and friendship drama on the horizon, it will take all of Alex’s entrepreneurial spirit to keep his slime dreams alive.

A funny and heartwarming story that middle grade readers will all relate to. Alex struggles to find his place in his new school, his family, and the complex social dynamics of his neighborhood, but the message of the story is to understand those who have different perspectives, including his father, his slime rival, and the school tough kids. Ultimately, Alex figures out that much of the tension in his life can be resolved by sharing his feelings with the people in his life and he finds the courage to both expand his horizons and and be true to himself. I’d recommend this one to middle grade readers in grades 4-6.

IT ALL BEGINS WITH JELLY BEANS by Nova Weetman

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

Since her dad dies, the nurse’s office has been Meg’s haven while at school. She can just sit alone, listening to the refrigerator hum and breathing into her paper bag to stave off a panic attack. Sometimes the nurse even gives her food to eat, which is good because Meg doesn’t always have breakfast. Or dinner. Or even real shoes since she outgrew her old ones and her mom hasn’t been in any condition to take her shopping for new ones. She doesn’t think anyone noticed she wears slippers to school every day until the newest 6th grade girl shows up in the nurse’s office with a bag of jelly beans.

Riley hasn’t been keeping her Type 1 Diabetes a secret really. She’s been testing during the day, just probably not as often as she should. And if the nurse calls her mom, her life will be officially over. Her mom is already insanely overprotective, never letting her do anything on her own. It’s one of the reasons she has such a hard time fitting in with her new friends. But at least she has friends, unlike Meg, the weird girl who always wears the same shirt and slippers to school. Riley doesn’t mean to give Meg the nickname “Slipper Girl.” It’s just something that slips out when she’s back in class with her popular friends. But as Riley’s friends’ bullying of Meg intensifies, Riley and Meg keep encountering each other in the nurse’s office and start to wonder if they might be kindred spirits after all.

This sweet friendship story has a beautiful blend of humor and sincerity, heartbreak and hope. The extreme opposite behaviors of the two moms allow Riley and Meg to each understand and appreciate their families more, and the way the school community (bullies excepted) supports both girls as they struggle for safety and acceptance made me smile more than a little. I highly recommend this one to middle grade fans of contemporary fiction.

It All Begins with Jelly Beans | Book by Nova Weetman | Official Publisher  Page | Simon & Schuster

AFTER/MATH by Emily Barth Isler

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Ever since her little brother died of a heart defect, there has been a line dividing Lucy’s family. Her parents are broken, grieving in different ways but both unable to talk about Theo. In fact, even their house and the town where they live is too painful for them to handle, so without even asking for Lucy’s input, they move to another state and into the former home of a dead girl.

Everyone in Lucy’s new town has lost someone. The school shooting that took place four years ago claimed the lives of many children, all of them in Lucy’s grade, one of them who used to live in Lucy’s new bedroom. Even though Lucy has experienced a loss of her own, it seems impossible to befriend these kids, whose lives are defined by a shared trauma. But when Lucy happens to sit at a lunch table with the the shooter’s younger sister, a social pariah because of her brother’s actions, she really connects with someone for the first time since Theo’s death. And when she and her new friend join an after school drama club run by their math teacher, Lucy begins to work through her feelings about Theo, her relationship with her parents, and the infinite journey of grief and love.

As a middle grade book about a school shooting, this book will be challenged (as many great books are) by adults who feel the content is inappropriate for upper-elementary and middle school students. As with any book about trauma and violence, there will be individual children who would find it unduly upsetting and won’t be ready for it. But I believe AFTER/MATH is developmentally appropriate and relevant for readers in grades 5-8–children who, like the book’s protagonist, have been getting glimpses of school shootings and gun violence in the news or through overhearing adult conversations. Although the characters bluntly share deeply disturbing (but realistic) memories of the shooting, because the novel is set years later and told through the eyes of a girl who experienced a different, less violent loss, the focus throughout the novel is not on violence but on grief, healing, and community. I would recommend this novel to mature middle grade readers, especially those in middle school.

FAST PITCH by Nic Stone

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Shenice “Lightning” Lockwood is making history. She’s the captain of the only all-Black softball team in her Georgia youth league, and they’re on their way to the championships. She knows she’s following in the footsteps of her great-grandfather, who was very nearly one of the first Black players in Major League Baseball before an event that no one will talk about derailed his career.

But when her parents take her to visit her granduncle Jack in his assisted living home, Shenice gets the first clue as to what happened in her great-grandfather’s past. He was accused of stealing a Joe DiMaggio baseball glove, and according to Uncle Jack, he was framed. Her parents claim that Uncle Jack is just senile, but Shenice can’t help wondering if what her uncle said was true. Is it possible that a white man framed her great-grandfather, destroying his career and the family legacy? As the softball championships draw closer, Shenice can’t concentrate on her game. She needs to find out the truth–before a past full of lies and injustices prevents her from leading her own team into their trail-blazing future.

Family, friendships, and a quest for justice burn bright in this gripping middle grade novel. The humor and Shenice’s loving community keep the story fun and uplifting even as Shenice’s quest for racial justice forces her to confront the darkness and pain of racism in the past and the present. This novel has something for mystery lovers, realistic fiction lovers, and sports fans–plus plenty of thought-provoking thematic material–making it an ideal choice for classrooms and book clubs. I highly recommend this book to all middle grade and younger YA readers (grades 4-8).

Fast Pitch by Nic Stone: 9781984893017 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

SAY IT OUT LOUD by Allison Varnes

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Charlotte hates her stutter so much that sometimes she wishes she were invisible. When a pair of bullies start picking on another kid on the bus, Charlotte can’t bring herself to stand up for him–not when it might make her the bullies’ next target. And when Charlotte’s best friend tries to stand up to the bullies and becomes a target herself, Charlotte does the unforgivable and abandons her.

Wracked by guilt, Charlotte tries to find new friendships in her musical theater class. But when the school board announces that the class will be cut next semester due to lack of funds, Charlotte won’t make the mistake of staying silent anymore. Through letters, she begins to fight for her musical theater class. And since she can’t stand up for the kids around her with her voice, she starts doing it with her pen, sending anonymous encouraging notes. As the school play draws closer, Charlottes written voice gets stronger. But will she ever find the courage to use her voice to ask for forgiveness?

This novel took me right back to middle school. The shifting, straining friendships, the bullying, trying to fit in so hard you end up pushing other people out–Varnes captures all of it perfectly. Yet SAY IT OUT LOUD does not feel angsty. The musical theater plot line and positive friendships in that class as well as Charlotte’s decision early on to start practicing empathy and encouraging others keep a constant thread of hope and inspiration running through the novel. This is a stand-out middle grade book that will be excellent for contemporary fiction readers, schools, and book clubs.

56142113. sy475

TIPS FOR MAGICIANS by Celesta Rimington

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

In the year since his mom died, Harrison has gotten really good at magic tricks. No one can guess how he guesses their card–and of course he never does the same trick twice. But the bit of magic Harrison most wishes he could perform would be to convince his dad not to go back on tour. It’s the first gig he’s taking since Harrison’s mom died, and they’ll be apart for a whole year. And as Harrison heads off to Utah to stay with his aunt, he’s desperate to find a way to get his dad to stay in Utah, too.

When Harrison arrives, he discovers that his aunt’s town has its own kind of magic–real magic, from a muse in a canyon that inspires local artists. At the annual art show, if the muse shows up, the winner gets a wish. Harrison knows what his wish would be. Though he hasn’t been feeling artistic since his mom died–especially not feeling like singing, which always reminds him of her–Harrison decides to enter the art contest, hoping that the muse will be powerful enough to bring his dad back home.

TIPS FOR MAGICIANS is a heart-warming middle grade story about the healing power of art and community. Throughout the story, Harrison remembers and misses his mother, but the true journey is toward restoring the relationship with his father that was damaged by loss. Ultimately, they are able to find a way to keep Harrison’s mother present in their lives while still moving forward as a family. I’d recommend this one to all fans of middle grade contemporary novels, including younger middle grade readers.

55835961. sy475

DOWN TO EARTH by Betty Culley

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Henry comes from a long line of dowsers, people who can sense water underground to dig wells. Sixty-six-point-sixty-six percent of his grandfather’s kids are dowsers. Thirty-three-point-three-three percent did not. Henry isn’t sure what his odds are, being his father’s only son. He desperately wants to be a dowser. But the first time he tries it, the forked stick he’s carrying doesn’t point to the ground at all. In fact, it points straight up into the sky!

But that night a wonderful thing happens. A gigantic meteor falls to Earth, leaving a crater in Henry’s family’s field. The meteorite is similar to the ones Henry has learned about for rock collecting, but it smells funny. And soon, water starts gushing from the ground where the meteorite landed, flooding Henry’s house and the area around it. It seems like Henry does have the power to sense water. But does that mean Henry is responsible for the destruction of his home?

DOWN TO EARTH is a sweet middle grade coming-of-age story of a boy longing to be a valuable part of his family and community and ultimately learning that being himself is enough. I loved the rich sense of support and acceptance through this book as Henry leans on his family and his family lean on their neighbors in a difficult time. I also loved the science included throughout and the sometimes quirky but always welcomed characters. I’d recommend this one to upper-elementary readers who enjoy contemporary fiction.

Down to Earth: Culley, Betty: 9780593175736: Amazon.com: Books

BOTH CAN BE TRUE by Jules Machias

Posted on Updated on

I am a Bookshop.org affiliate. If you make a purchase by clicking through the links in this post, I will receive a commission, and Bookshop.org will donate a matching commission to independent booksellers. For more information, see my “About” page.

Ash’s mom didn’t really check before signing Ash up for a new school. I mean, it’s great that she’s supportive, and great that the new school has a Rainbow Alliance and gender neutral bathroom, but Ash isn’t really ready to talk about gender to the whole school. It’s easier to let everyone assume that Ash is a girl–maybe a tomboy–than try to explain how that identity can change from day to day. Just the existence of the gender neutral bathroom creates problems. What if Daniel saw Ash using a gender neutral bathroom? It’s kind of convenient for Ash’s male crush to think of Ash as a girl.

When Daniel rescues an elderly Pomeranian from euthanasia at the vet clinic where he volunteers, though, he turns to Ash for help. And Ash realizes that the crush is very much mutual. The only problem: Daniel has no idea of Ash’s gender identity. Will their friendship continue to blossom into something more if Ash tells Daniel the truth?

Loved this middle grade novel! The voice of both protagonists is so authentically middle grade with just the right balance of humor, sincerity, and self-doubt. A true delight to read. Highly recommend to 5-7th grade readers, especially dog lovers!

Both Can Be True: Machias, Jules: 9780063053892: Amazon.com: Books