Kids Fiction

THE CURSE OF THE PHOENIX by Aimée Carter

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.

Zac has always suspected that his father took a job that kept him away from home all week because he couldn’t handle the stress of Zac’s allergies and medical issues, but now Zac knows for certain. Since their mom died, it’s his twin sister, Lu, who’s been helping him with his medications and his inhalers, and after an officially vicious asthma attack, his dad finally announces that he’s sending Zac away–Zac and Lu, actually–to live with an aunt they’ve never heard of in England.

When they arrive on their family’s land, however, something immediately takes Zac and Lu’s mind off their father. Their mother’s relatives live on a vast estate called the Wildewoods where they are caretakers for the animals. Not normal animals, but dragons, unicorns, mermaids, and even a phoenix! As Zac and Lu explore the magical kingdom, they suddenly feel closer to their mother than they’ve ever been, realizing that all the stories she told them as children were actually true. Unfortunately, they also discover a terrible secret about the cause of their mother’s death and an ancient curse that could doom them–either to a life without the father they’re still missing or to an early death themselves. But Zac and Lu have always been partners in crime, and they’re determined to break the curse before it breaks them.

This family-focused, imaginative middle grade fantasy will appeal to animal lovers and mythology lovers–and anyone who likes a good adventure story! Even though it’s not based on single specific mythology, I’d put this one in the hands of Riordan fans, Fablehaven fans, and fans of brother/sister adventures.

Curse of the Phoenix: Carter, Aimée: 9781534478442: Amazon.com: Books

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.

SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA by Cynthia Leitich Smith

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.

The Roberts-Darling family is changing. It changed once before, in the best possible way, when Lily’s mother married Wendy’s father and the two stepsisters became best friends. It grew again when Michael was born. But this change feels different. George Darling and his daughter Wendy will be moving to New York and Lily, her mother, and Michael will be staying behind in Tulsa, close to their Muscogee Creek heritage. This time, the family isn’t growing; it’s growing apart. And as the differences of opinions of the parents trickle down to the children, the stepsisters aren’t sure they’ll ever be best friends again.

But Lily and Wendy aren’t the only people who have been listening to their parents’ whispered fights after bedtime. A boy has been hovering outside their window, along with a tiny fairy. When Peter and Belle finally make their presence known, Wendy is captivated by the magical flying boy, but Lily senses something sinister. For one thing, Peter calls Lily an Injun, and though she doesn’t know exactly what that means, she’s certain that it’s rude. For another thing, when Peter flies out the window, Wendy follows–bringing Michael with her. It isn’t like Wendy to be so thoughtless. There’s something more than flying magic in that fairy dust. Lily chases after her siblings, finding her way to the magical Neverland where Peter has imprisoned generations of children, never letting them return home. Lost on the island and desperate to reunite, both Lily and Wendy will have to find the courage to brave the dangers of Neverland and the humility and forgiveness to become a family again.

There is so much to love in this beautiful story of family and redemption. Smith not only acknowledges the morally troubling aspects of Barrie’s Peter Pan and Wendy but also gives a voice and agency not only to her Muscogee Creek protagonist but to the other Native people on the island. In fact, all of Smith’s characters are complex and well-rounded–a much needed revision of Barrie’s original. And yet, SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA is truly a revision, not a rejection. The omniscient narration nods to the style of Barrie’s work while being accessible and smooth enough for modern young readers. While Peter Pan’s flaws are brought to the forefront, this is a story of redemption, not a horror story. If you (like me) loved the fantasy of Neverland as a child but grew shocked by racism once you began to recognize it–or if you were injured by the hurtful stereotypes in Peter Pan and need your own redemptive experience with the story–SISTERS OF NEVERSEA is a wonderful book to share with your children or your middle grade students or book club.

Sisters of the Neversea: Smith, Cynthia L: 9780062869975: Amazon.com: Books

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.

ARTIE AND THE WOLF MOON by Olivia Stephens

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.

Artie is excited to work on her photography project, and the night of the full moon seems like the perfect time to get some great nature shots. She’s sure her mom is being overprotective by insisting she stay inside after dark, so she doesn’t hesitate to sneak out with her dad’s old camera. But once outside, she is shocked when the first creature she sees is an enormous wolf–and even more shocked when the wolf turns into her mother

Artie’s mom tells her that she comes from a family of werewolves and that Artie might be a werewolf herself. But it isn’t until a group of bullies have her cornered in the woods that Artie’s wolf nature reveals itself. Artie’s mother whisks her away to the secluded community where she grew up to learn more about her heritage, but Artie can’t seem to master the art of transformation. Meanwhile, a coven of vampires has been stirring up trouble. Artie’s mother has tried to shield her from the vampires–and the uncertainty of what happened to Artie’s father–but if Artie is ever going to grow into her power, she’ll need to learn from the past and take some risks to uncover the truth.

Expressive artwork brings to life a story of a young woman finding her place in her community. Though a high stakes fantasy plot forms the central conflict, the core of the novel is the bonds of parents and children and familial love in general. Artie and her family are Black, which will contribute much-needed diversity to graphic novel and middle grade fantasy collections. I recommend this one to middle schoolers!

Amazon.com: Artie and the Wolf Moon: 9781541542488: Stephens, Olivia,  Stephens, Olivia: Books

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

THE MONSTER MISSIONS by Laura Martin

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.

Berkley’s dad isn’t thrilled that his daughter chose to be a scavenger. Everyone on a ship has to have a job–even twelve year olds–but diving to the wreckage of human civilization that has been deep underwater since her grandfather’s youth is the most dangerous job she could have picked. But Berkley is a great diver and her inventions help her scavenge the most scrap metal and other treasures they can use on the ship. That is until one of her inventions awaken a sea monster.

Sea monsters aren’t supposed to exist, but the serpentine creature that attacks the divers and then goes for the ship couldn’t really have any other name than “monster.” Thinking fast, Berkley and her friend Garth manage to trap the monster in chains, but the captain isn’t proud of them for saving the ship. In fact, he immediately transfers them to the crew of a research submarine, not even letting them tell their parents goodbye. As far as he’s concerned, the most important thing is to keep the crew from finding out about the monster in the first place. On a sub tasked with researching monsters like the one Berkley and Garth defeated, the two newcomers are immediately welcomed to the team. But Berkley can’t shake the feeling that the monster she fought might find a way out of its chains. And when it does, she knows it will be coming for her.

This novel is mostly an action-packed, futuristic fantasy adventure with an ominous undercurrent of climate change warnings. The monsters and humorous banter keep the story largely escapist, but deeper themes of family, friendship, courage, and environmental responsibility keep it grounded as well. I’d recommend this one to fans of both middle grade sci-fi and fantasy.

The Monster Missions: Martin, Laura: 9780062894380: Amazon.com: Books