MG – The Daredevils

Buyea, Rob. The Daredevils. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-37614-0 231 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Author of the popular series, Because of Mr. Terupt, has written a tale of one summer for twins- Waylon and Loretta. The two are strongly bonded, and Loretta is her brother’s keeper. Waylon was born smaller and has had his fair share of bullies. This is the summer before they enter middle school, and their parents are determined to send them on separate paths in order to prepare them for the coming year. Waylon is sent to robotics day camp while Loretta attends a sports day camp. However, the two are determined to spend their nights together after they discover an old cigar box with a quest inside. Along the way, they meet up with a mysterious boy named Louie, and the three of them will embark on a summer to remember. 

THOUGHTS: Rob Buyea has a way to tell a beautiful and poignant story through the eyes of the rocky middle school years. This is another perfect example.

Realistic Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD
Novel in Verse

MG – Freestyle

Galligan, Gale. Freestyle. Graphix, 2022. 978-1-338-04581-9. Unpaged. $24.99. Grades 3-7.

Cory Tan’s break dance team is about to compete in a big competition, and all eight members are excited. The team captain, Tess, is pushing the group harder than ever before to the point where it causes some strain in the group. Cory causes even more strain when his parents check his grades and ground him until he gets his grades back to acceptable levels. His punishment means the dance crew has to rehearse without Cory. His parents hire a tutor named Sunna, a classmate of Cory’s who is a bit of an outcast at school. She constantly is writing intensely in a notebook and barely talks to anyone. After a rocky first tutoring session, Cory discovers that Sunna has a secret: She has incredible yo-yo skills! Sunna uses yo-yo moves to help him learn geometry and in the process, Cory becomes hooked on yo-yoing. Instead of devoting what little free time he has to the dance team, he starts hanging out with Sunna outside of tutoring to work on his yo-yo moves. Eventually, Cory discovers that Sunna’s parents also have very high expectations of her which leaves her feeling like she is never good enough. Cory and Sunna have to figure out how to fit this budding friendship into their already packed lives while also navigating their parents’ and friends’ expectations of them.

THOUGHTS: The newest book from Galligan, the author responsible for the illustrated adaptations of the beloved Babysitters Club graphic novels, is a must-purchase for middle grade libraries. Featuring a diverse cast of characters living in New York City, this book shows that pre-teens from all backgrounds struggle with parental acceptance and peer pressure. The book is fun and full of heart.

Graphic Novel          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – Attack of the Black Rectangles

King, Amy Sarig. Attack of the Black Rectangles. Scholastic Press, 2022. 978-1-338-68052-2. 258 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Mac Delaney is excited to start 6th grade even though his teacher Ms. Sett is known around their small town for enforcing rather strict rules, such as a curfew for teenagers and no pizza delivery after a certain time of night. She even got the town to give up trick-or-treating at Halloween! Mac does not let her rules bother him; after all, he has his hands full trying to understand his dad who is struggling with an unnamed mental illness. When his class starts literature circles, Mac and his friends pick Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic. However, he is horrified to find that there are certain words and sentences covered in black rectangles, specifically words in the scene where the main character Hannah enters the shower at the concentration camp she is forced to go to. He buys the book from the local bookstore to compare the copies and finds that those black rectangles were put there by someone else in order to censor parts of the story. After finding out that Ms. Sett did indeed censor the book’s shower scenes because “some boys might giggle,” Mac is furious. Mac’s father does not understand what the big deal is, but Mac knows censorship is wrong. He and his friends decide they need to take action, and in doing so they find more people willing to fight against censorship than he ever thought possible.

THOUGHTS: A.S. King’s book shows the harm that censorship can have on a small community while handling the topic fairly. She clearly thinks highly of young adults as the young characters in this book are whip-smart and fully aware of the social issues that plague the world. This timely novel takes place in a famously small town in Lancaster, PA; local readers will enjoy seeing their favorite establishments pop up in the book as the backdrop to Mac’s story.

Realistic Fiction         Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – The Supervillain’s Guide to Being a Fat Kid

Wallace, Matt. The Supervillain’s Guide to Being a Fat Kid. Katherine Keagen Books, 2022. 978-0-063-00803-8. 261 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7. 

Max, the main character of this heartbreaking and heartwarming story, is a great kid with one problem; he’s a fat kid, and he endures constant bullying and ostracization at school because of his weight. He and his equally-bullied friend, Luca, spend each day at their new middle school waiting for the next attack from the biggest and most popular bully, Johnny Pro. The situation seems hopeless until Max decides to reach out to Master Plan, a notorious supervillain who was recently put in jail because of his villainous deeds. Through letters between Max and Master Plan, Max learns confidence as the older supervillain teaches him to dress well and defend himself, but when Max gets a great opportunity to appear in a popular TV baking show, he begins to wonder who is really helping who in their unusual mentoring relationship. Eventually Max decides that Master Plan did help embrace his good qualities and improve his friendships, but that he, not his supervillain hero, must take responsibility for his own happiness and success.

THOUGHTS: The body-positivity and anti-bullying messages in this book are skillfully incorporated into a funny, charming and thought-provoking tale about a kid who has to deal with a bully. The dialogue and action in this story is realistic, and students who enjoy hero-and-villain tales will appreciate the way Master Plan mentors Max and helps him find his own style and his own voice. This is ultimately a light-hearted tale that contains some excellent messages.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

MG – Air

Roe, Monica. Air. Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-0-374-38865-2. 267 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.

Air is about a fiercely independent girl who finds confidence, independence, and friendship while living in a community that needs serious upgrades to handicapped accessibility and efforts at inclusion. Emmie and her best friend Alejandra are lively, interesting characters who both have big dreams and work together to help make those dreams a reality; Emmie’s dream is to participate in the WCMX games for wheelchair athletes, and Alejandra aspires to be a master beekeeper. Unfortunately, after an accident at school with her wheelchair, Emmie discovers that not everyone who wants to help her achieve her athletic dreams has pure intentions, and she needs to make a hard decision about who she is, what she wants, and what she must sacrifice to accomplish her goals.

THOUGHTS: Emmie is surrounded by so many supportive people in this book; her friends, her family, and even the wheelchair-bound customer she corresponds with online really help her understand what she needs to do to be successful, and they allow her to explore and make mistakes in a way that is touching and inspiring. This story is definitely a wonderful example to illustrate the idea that disability is not the only way to define a person while simultaneously showing that accessibility, accommodation and understanding are crucial pieces to the success of students and of whole communities. Fans of Wonder, Fish in a Tree and Out of My Mind will love this book too!

Realistic Fiction        Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

MG – The Lost Ryu

Cohen, Emi Watanabe. The Lost Ryu. Levine Querido, 2022. 978-1-646-14132-6. 200 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

This book explores an alternate history full of magical realism where dragons or “ryu” are real; some big ryu even helped Japan fight in WWII, but now most big dragons have disappeared. Even though they both care for small family dragons as pets and companions, Kohei and his new friend Isolde want to try to find a “big” dragon and bring back the majestic creatures who were lost after the war. Kohei is also trying to discover more about the father who passed away when he was three and reconnect with his mother and grandfather, who both seem stuck in the past. Will Kohei and Isodle ever discover where the big ryu have gone, and will that discovery help to heal all the terrible scars the war has left on the world?

THOUGHTS: Students who like historical fiction and fantasy will like this imaginative take on friendship, family, and Japanese dragon mythology. Kohei is Japanese, Isolde is Japanese-Jewish, and the story uses their mutual love of dragons to help them deal with the complicated history of Japan, World War II, and the Holocaust. The relationships in this book also show the struggles of children who cope with the trauma suffered by their parents and contain hopeful messages about learning how to move forward after tragedies have happened within a family.

Historical Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

MG – Scout Is Not a Band Kid

Armstrong, Jade. Scout Is Not a Band Kid. RH Graphic, 2022. 978-0-593-17622-1. 263 p. $12.99. Grades 3-7.

Rising eighth grader Scout Martins is desperate to attend AlmonteFest and meet author Pristine Wong, creator of the Posaune Warrior Princess series of books and video games. Unfortunately, her dad thinks New Almonte is too far away from Waltz, Ontario, but Scout isn’t ready to give up. Among the back-to-school handouts she sees a flier for the Holy Moly Catholic School Band, and its end-of-year trip to AlmonteFest. Scout attends her first practice, claiming to play the trombone, which makes her one half of the trombone section. The other half, trombonist Merrin LaFreniere, quickly susses out that Scout can’t play a note. Mr. Varma, the band director, interprets Merrin’s frustration as a lack of commitment to teamwork, and instructs her to tutor Scout to polish her trombone skills. An unlikely but strong friendship develops, though in the end Scout will have to decide if her loyalties lie with the band or with her own agenda for AlmonteFest. Created with a variety of digital tools, a blend of cool and warm color palettes reflect both the changing seasons and the characters’ emotions. 

THOUGHTS: In their first graphic novel, author and illustrator Jade Armstrong meshes timeless themes (friendship, loyalty, teamwork) with Scout’s fandom culture in a way that middle grade readers will adore.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – Twin Cities

Pimienta, Jose. Twin Cities. RH Graphic, 2022. 978-0-593-18062-4. 248 p. $12.99. Grades 4-7.

Sibling dynamics are at the heart of Jose Pimienta’s cleverly titled middle grade graphic novel, Twin Cities. Fraternal “Lu-Lu” twins Louisa Teresa and Luis Fernando Sosa opt to attend different middle schools, on different sides of the U.S. / Mexico border that divides Mexicali and Calexico. Teresa, who is very focused on her education and future opportunities, gets up extra early and spends long hours on homework in order to succeed at her Catholic school in Calexico, California. Fernando prefers the familiarity of his local school in Mexicali. The siblings grow apart as Teresa establishes her own identity with a new set of school friends. Fernando, meanwhile, is befriended by another boy who may lead him down a dangerous path of dealing illegal drugs. Bickering between siblings gets serious when Teresa discovers her brother’s secret, and he accuses her of being a “pocha” (abandoning her culture to assimilate on the U.S. side). Author/illustrator Pimienta employs side-by-side page spreads to portray the daily experiences of each twin. It’s also a great tool for depicting the varying characteristics of a city divided by an international border. Pimienta’s “Notes on a Particular Word” provide background on their decision to use the pejorative term “pocha” in the book.

THOUGHTS: Twin Cities is full of vibrant colors, authentic details, and relatable sibling tension. It’s one of many recent, outstanding graphic novels for middle grade readers that is not to be missed!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – The Final Cut

Markell, Denis. The Final Cut. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-18066-2. 289 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Alex Davis is ready to start 7th grade because he believes this will be his year. However, he discovers that he did not get into the super popular elective: Game Design and instead has been put into the filmmaking elective. He is devastated. The class is taught by the young, hipster teacher who wants to be called Pablo, and the class is filled with eclectic students. Alex feels like his life is doomed, but then he begins to forge friendships with this wonderful cast of characters as they work to create the best film in order to be the winners of the coveted Golden Reel Award. Yet strange things are amiss when it seems that someone is out to sabotage the competition.

THOUGHTS: A fun book! Wonderful characters who make the story all the more fun. The mystery was exciting but not scary. Sometimes we need a fun lighthearted read.  This is that book.

Mystery          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD
Realistic Fiction

MG – Freddie vs. the Family Curse

Badua, Tracy. Freddie vs. the Family Curse. Clarion, 2022. 978-0-358-61289-6. $16.99. 256 p. Grades 5-8.

Freddie Ruiz–AKA “Faceplant Freddie”–is plagued by the family curse in Freddie vs. the Family Curse. Unlike his talented, popular cousin next door, Sharlene (Sharkey) Mendoza, Freddie cannot bust a move on the Wylde Beast breakdance team, make friends with the other Robo-Warrior card players, or join any sports team because he risks injury or humiliation. His academic career is not filled with high grades and trophies but a collection of embarrassing moments and pratfalls. Just when it seems his luck cannot get much worse, he discovers an amulet while searching for glue to complete a last-minute school project on family trees. Great grandmother, Apong Rosing, calls the coin on a leather strap/cord an anting- anting and explains in a strange mix of spirituality and Filipino superstition that its magic can be unleashed through a priest and recognizes the coin as the one worn by Domingo Agustin (Ingo), her deceased older brother’s best friend. During Mass at Holy Redeemer Academy, the amulet becomes activated. Great Grand Uncle Ramon materializes, visual only to Freddie, Sharkey, and Apong Rosing.When the Japanese invaded the Philippines, seventeen-year-old Uncle Ramon went off to fight in World War II and died from an infected cut on the Bataan Death March. Through the warm and often humorous relationship Freddie develops with his newly found uncle, the seventh grader discovers the source of the curse was Uncle Ramon’s transgression, and the only way to banish the curse and keep Freddie alive is to return the amulet to its rightful owner–within a 13- day timeline! When Sharkey becomes collateral damage for the Ruiz curse, Freddy’s best solution to deliver the amulet is to master his dance moves and fill in at the breakdance championship in Las Vegas. In his chase against time, Uncle Ramon helps Freddie realize he has the talent and cleverness to make his own luck.

THOUGHTS: Author Tracy Badua involves some Filipino history in a heartfelt story of an underdog struggle to believe in himself. Story includes information about the Rescission Act, the unkept promise the U.S. government made to the Filipino soldiers to make monetary recompense. As Freddie works out how to break the curse, the reader finds a close knit Filipino-American family with their customs and folklore. The relationship between Freddie and his great grandmother and uncle forms an opportunity for an intergenerational perspective. In the beginning of the story, the author seems to include many descriptive details as though she were remembering her own family: grandmother wears a purple shawl when she goes for her dialysis, Freddie’s family observes the Filipino custom of not sweeping the floor at night for fear of “sweeping out the fortune.” Lead students who like this book to Erin Estrada Kelly’s Lalani of the Distant Seas for their next choice.

Fantasy (Magic Realism)          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia