Diaz Gonzalez, Christina. Invisible. Illustrated by Gabriela Epstein. Graphix, 2022. 978-1-338-19454-8. 202 p. $12.99. Grades 4-7.
Invisible is the story of a group of five students who are thrust together for a school community service project strictly because of the language (or the assumption of the language) they speak (Spanish). What the school administration doesn’t understand is that the students aren’t even united by language –their backgrounds and personalities are radically different. The project itself consists of menial tasks in the cafeteria supervised by a grouchy cafeteria manager… until the students discover a homeless family in need and step in to help. Unique to this story is its bilingual nature–paired speech bubbles continually translate from English to Spanish and back as the students and adults communicate with each other. A close observer will also notice a web of encounters between characters’ families in the illustrations even though they had no connection prior to their service project. Not only about a service project, the book also develops each character’s family, history, and challenges through individual out-of-school encounters with each family–there are many mirrors, doors, and windows for readers of this book.
THOUGHTS: Beyond a compelling story linked through a spiderweb of revelations and connections between students revealed primarily through the illustrations, the format of this book is truly unique in that the bilingual text is seamlessly integrated into the novel’s speech bubbles, opening a range of opportunities for readers to: read the text in their first language, read the text in a language they are learning with support, or simply enjoy the richness of two languages presented together. Gabriella Epstein’s illustrations have the same approachable style used in her BabySitter’s Club days, providing the book a ready audience who will reach for the book for the familiarity of the artwork in addition to the story. Highly recommended.
Brown, Roseanne A. Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting. Disney Hyperion, 2022. 978-1-368-06636-5. 400pg. $17.99. Grades 5-8.
Serwa knows that fireflies aren’t just harmless bugs; in her world they are vicious vampires known as adza that come from southeastern Ghana. Serwa and her family are slayers, and they are responsible for protecting the public from these creatures. When her parents get called on a special mission, Serwa knows this is her chance to shine but her parents have other plans and leave her with an aunt and cousin to keep her safe. Serwa now has to navigate the most difficult thing she’s ever had to deal with before… middle school! As things are settling down and Serwa is finding her footing, an adza attacks her school and it is up to her to figure out what is going on and protect the school and community.
THOUGHTS: This is an amazing addition to the Rick Riordan presents books! This book is highly engaging, fast paced, and has wonderful character development throughout the pages. The ending will leave the reader wanting the next book in the series right away. This book is highly recommended for middle school collections.
Fantasy Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy
Zhao, Katie. Winnie ZengUnleashes a Legend. 978-0-593-42657-9. Random House, 2022. 279 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.
Winnie Zeng has enough pressure: starting middle school, as well as her Chinese parents constantly nagging her to get better grades, practice the piano more, and to always beat her nemesis, David Zuo. She really doesn’t need her pet rabbit, Jade, to start talking to her. Not to worry, says the rabbit, it’s the overspirit of her dead grandmother, Lao Lao. When Winnie uses her grandmother’s old cookbook to bake mooncakes, she unknowingly activates her own shaman powers (which summons Lao Lao), as well as unleashes a class one spirit who promptly possesses her older sister’s boyfriend. Lao Lao explains to Winnie that shaman are responsible for protecting the human world from malevolent spirits that escape into the world. Great! Now she has a supernatural grandmother nagging her as well! What’s a good Chinese daughter to do? Practice the piano for the upcoming competition (and beat David) or practice her shaman skills with her grandmother? To make things even worse, Winnie discovers David is also a shaman-in-training (but doing better than her, of course.) With spirit activity increasing as the Mid-Autumn Festival approaches, Lao Lao and David pressure Winnie to step up her training, but even an obedient Chinese-American daughter can only do so much. Will Winnie choose to save the world or ace the piano competition once and for all? Zhao uses Chinese mythology to frame the plot, but the heart of the story is Winnie’s need to find herself amid the constant drive to please her parents. Winnie is an appealing, laugh-out-loud funny narrator. Students definitely will relate to her exasperation at being expected to do so much at a very high level, and the feeling of never being quite good enough.
THOUGHTS: Readers looking for a humorous book with a likable protagonist definitely will enjoy Winnie Zeng. While they may not understand her (temporary) choice to focus on school and turn down being a spirit-catching, world-saving shaman, most will relate to her stressed-out feeling of being over-scheduled with activities and expectations, and look forward to the next book.
Cooke, Stephanie. Oh My Gods! Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021. 978-0-358-29952-3. $12.99. 202 p. Grades 4-8.
Being a teenager is tough enough, but when Karen’s mom gets the job offer of her dreams, Karen is obligated to move to Greece to live with her Dad, Zed, which means her life is about to get much more complicated. Soon after her arrival, it is clear that living on Mt. Olympus will be a lot different than the life she was used to in New Jersey! Karen quickly meets a group of friends at her new school, and to her they seem normal, but anyone familiar with Greek mythology will immediately realize that the references and similarities to Greek deities mean Karen’s new friends are more than the everyday teenagers they pretend to be. Together, the new friends discover a student turned into a statue in the library one night, and Karen realizes she must solve the mystery of who is turning kids to stone on campus!
THOUGHTS: Fans of fiction featuring Greek mythology, including Rick Riordan fans, will love the multitude of references to gods and goddesses in this book. Students who do not know much about the Ancient Greeks may be inspired to learn more; this would make a great pairing with nonfiction titles like those in the Mythlopedia series. The graphic illustrations are charming and enhance the mystery and quirky humor in the story. Strong themes of friendship and acceptance in this book leave the reader eager to see what the next installment (April 2022) of Karen’s adventures on Mt. Olympus will hold!
Every middle school girl knows what it means when another girl would risk getting pulled over for a dress code violation in order to tie her sweatshirt around the waist of her new white jeans, so when Molly Frost sees her friend, Olivia, crying in the Kindness Garden in front of the principal, it’s the last straw. Why is Dr. Couchman obsessed with the dress code? Why is the identical outfit a violation on Liza but not on Molly? Has any adult at the school ever tried to buy shorts that are longer than fingertip length? Molly starts a podcast so girls in her middle school and even some in high school, can tell their dress code horror stories. Soon the podcast grows into a movement, with Molly and her friends ultimately bringing their fight to the school board. Told in prose, lists, letters, and podcasts, readers will sympathize with the female students of Fisher Middle School and cheer for their determination.
THOUGHTS: A friendship story with a side of activism, Dress Coded is an absolute must for middle school libraries.
Realistic FictionMelissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD