As you may have heard, our Library Director, Gene Nelson, is a member of the Newbery Committee this year. In a show of solidarity, many of us are taking on the challenge to read as many books for kids aged 0-14 as we can get our hands on. Though I haven’t been keeping up with Gene’s feverish reading pace, I’ve read more middle grade novels this year than in the past several years combined (I’m going to blame that on a toddler and a Netflix addiction). While Gene must remain mum about what books he’s eyeing for the award, as a nobody to the committee I’m free to share my opinions about things I’ve been reading. In no particular order, here are my favorite middle-grade novels of 2016 so far.
by Sara Pennypacker
Every so often, you notice unintended patterns in your reading. When choosing my favorites of the year so far, I found myself deciding between two excellent novels about children and foxes, and PAX edged out MAYBE A FOX by Kathi Appelt. Both are excellent; PAX is remarkable. This book manages to address themes of loyalty, friendship, abuse, trust, and the price of war all while telling the simple story of a boy and his fox. Any attempt to simplify PAX’s storyline in this blurb doesn’t quite do justice to the book. It’s about finding truth in unexpected places; it’s about learning to be strong; it’s about the weight of our decisions, and learning how to know whether you’ve made the right one. The prose is lyrical, the characters are engaging, and the book is great.
HOUR OF THE BEES
by Lindsey Eager
Middle-grade fiction is chocked full of grandparent stories. I’m not quite sure what it is that draws writers to the premise—perhaps a the feeling that we need to know where we come from to understand where we’re going—but there are countless stories of surly 12-year-olds visiting curmudgeonly grandparents and learning life lessons along the way. At first, I thought HOUR OF THE BEES was just another one of these stories, but I was mistaken. After a few chapters, the book jolted me awake and grabbed my attention with a parallel magical story that transforms this book from just another grandparent story to something amazing. To say more would be to spoil a surprise, but you really shouldn’t miss this one. Bonus: it’s by a local author!
by Ally Condie
More than any book on this list, SUMMERLOST gave me all the feels. Ally Condie describes this book as a book about “falling in friendship”, and she absolutely delivers on that promise. This isn’t a love story; it’s a friendship story of the best kind. Cedar Lee and her mother and younger brother move to the town of Iron Creek for a summer as they’re trying to cope with a devastating loss in their family. Trying to escape her grief, Cedar throws herself into a job and finds a friendship and a mystery that get her through the summer. You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! You’ll want to get a ticket to the Shakespeare Festival, and you’ll be grateful for your family and friends and the way that they buoy you up in times of trouble. Bonus: Ally Condie is local as well!
by Kate DiCamillo
One of my favorite things about Kate DiCamillo’s writing in RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE is the way she manages to communicate big concepts in small sentences. RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE finds young Raymie preparing to compete in the Little Miss South Florida Tire contest as a way to try to convince her absent father to come home; along the way she makes friends with would-be competitors, learns to twirl a baton, and finds out what her soul was made for.
by Karen Harrington
I said this list was in no particular order, but I lied: MAYDAY just might be my favorite so far. MAYDAY is gripping right from the start. From the publisher’s description: “Wayne Kovok lives in a world of After. After his uncle in the army was killed overseas. After Wayne and his mother survived a plane crash while coming back from the funeral. After he lost his voice.” Just that description makes me want to read it again! MAYDAY is equal parts funny and substantive as it explores the ways that family helps and (maybe) hinders the healing process. There is a grandparent, there is an absent father, and at the heart of the book is an interesting main character just trying to find his voice. READ THIS BOOK!
It’s July, which means that there’s still plenty of time for more great books to come out! What’s your favorite middle-grade novel of the year so far? What did I miss?