Start the new year right — get some of 2018’s (and one 2019 new release) middle grade books for the young reader in your life. There is a wide range of titles that will appeal to many different readers.
Graphic novels are high in interest and many children who aren’t interested in reading text-only chapter books love the illustrations and fast-moving pace of these books. There are several 2018 releases that include graphic novels and books with many illustrations along with text, mimicking the feel of a graphic novel.
“Sanity & Tallulah” by Molly Brooks is this debut author’s first graphic novel in a trilogy about two girls living on a space station at the end of the galaxy. Sanity decides to create a living science experiment and the result is a three-headed cat. When it goes missing, she and her friend Tallulah will have to find it before all havoc breaks out. There’s humor, excitement, lots of science, and a three-headed cat to interest readers. (Disney-Hyperion Books)
Younger middle grade readers will love “Pug Pals: Two’s a Crowd” by Flora Ahn. It’s practically a graphic novel with large black and white illustrations on each page and spare text. But the story is filled with humor and a message about family and sacrifice which even a young middle grade reader will appreciate and understand. Dog lovers will laugh at some of the narrative. Sunny explains how she spends her day, and part of it is organizing her belongings. She arranges them and inspects them. Then, “She laid aside the ones that needed some mending and moved them close to the door. That way her human would trip over them right away when she came home.” Any human who has tripped over the many dog toys strewn around a home will immediately commiserate with this. When Sunny’s quiet home is invaded by Rosy, a pugnacious pug, Sunny isn’t pleased. But when Rosy loses Sunny’s favorite toy and goes off to find it, Sunny realizes that toys may not be the most important thing in her life. The story has some great messages for young readers. (Scholastic Press)
Another almost-graphic-novel is the new release “Max & the Midknights” by Lincoln Peirce, the author who created the “Big Nate” series. This medieval adventure is about Max, an apprentice troubadour, who narrates the tale and has plenty of surprises to share. Max’s dream is to be a knight, and along the way, Max makes plenty of friends, has many adventures and close calls, and lives through many twists and turns for the reader to enjoy. The illustrations dominate the story with some additional text. The story relies heavily on the graphics to tell the tale, and it’s a great combination of traditional text and graphics. (Crown Books for Young Readers)
“Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School” by Julie Falatko is illustrated by Colin Jack. It’s a clever story of two dogs who decide that they need to help their boy. The problem is that he has to go to school, and he’s bored there. The intrepid duo get an old trench coat and sign up to attend Bea Arthur Elementary School. They claim they are a new student named Salty who hails from Liver, Ohio. They love school and their teacher loves them, er, Salty. Of course the whole concept is silly, but kids will love thinking about the possibilities and will laugh at the dogs’ antics. It’s filled with illustrations, but better yet, it’s filled with humor and laughs. From advanced second grade readers through middle schoolers, all will enjoy some escapism with the two scoundrel dogs. (Scholastic Press)
“Positively izzy” by Terri Libenson is about two different girls in middle school. Izzy loves drama (the on-stage kind) but studying? Not so much. Brianna, or Bri, is a brilliant student, but she’s struggling to stop her mom from insisting she get involved in acting. Her parents are divorced and she loves math and science like her dad, but theater? Not so much. The story hinges on the school talent show in which both are appearing. What makes this book different and quite interesting is that the illustrating style is what differentiates the two narratives. Brianna’s story is told in traditional graphic novel illustrations while Izzy’s story is told through text with paragraphs and sometimes sentences broken up with illustrations. The two styles work beautifully together, both telling the story with lots of graphics while clearly letting readers know which point of view they are reading. The story has a sweet conclusion and is quite satisfying. It’s a great choice for older middle grade readers, and girls will probably be drawn to this one more than boys. (Balzer & Bray)
“Unbelievably Boring Bart” by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski has a catchy title, and in the first chapter, Bart warns the reader that, “I am the most boring middle schooler in the universe.” But then he also advises the reader not to stop reading. He says, “I promise, there’s more to my story than you think, and it’s totally and completely not boring. My story involves bizarre creatures, last-minute escapes, daring computer hacks, double crosses, and even the threat of total global destruction.” Who could resist? Lots of text in this book but it’s totally engaging and direct. The first person narrative allows for lots of self-deprecating humor, and there are plenty of illustrations. Those who enjoyed the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books would enjoy this story. (Jimmy Patterson Books/ Little, Brown and Company)
“Let Sleeping Dragons Lie” by Garth Nix and Sean Williams is the sequel to “Have Sword, Will Travel,” but this story stands perfectly well on its own. It’s about Odo and Eleanor, who are thrilled to be knights. The action starts from the first word, “Bilewolves!” And the duo must help defeat two wolves who are described as “… four enormous, shaggy, wolflike creatures, each the size of a small horse…” But that’s just the start of the journey that takes them to distant lands, dangerous fights, and even more hazardous secrets that they must unlock to prevent the peril that threatens their kingdom. And there are dragons. While there are no illustrations, the nonstop action, the humor, and the mystery will enthrall young readers. (Scholastic Press)
2018 has brought some fabulous nonfiction books for middle grade readers. All three of these titles are engaging, informative, and guaranteed to interest kids. And they all have plenty of illustrations.
“The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Greece: A Handbook for Time Travelers” by Jonathan W. Stokes follows his other two “Thrifty Guide” books to Ancient Rome and the American Revolution. In this richly illustrated book, Stokes takes readers back in time to Ancient Greece, and it’s guaranteed that readers will learn more about Greece than they ever thought possible, including some very esoteric facts. For breakfast, ancient Greeks ate bread dipped in wine, and for lunch it’s much of the same, but some olives, figs, cheese, or dried fish might be added. Dinner is at sunset, and it’s lentils with a bit of fruit and maybe some fish. No five-star restaurant reviews in this travel guide — because while “The Greeks give the world democracy and mathematics, ….they will not be giving you a fork.” They eat with their fingers and use bread as a spoon and napkin. There are plenty of graphics, including shaded blocks with “Helpful Hints: Time Corp Deliveries,” for example. Time Corp is the entity that makes time travel possible, enabling the reader to virtually go back to ancient Greece. Time Corp Deliveries promises that “your own personal concierge will pick their way through the front lines of battle to deliver you a refreshing glass of iced tea or maybe a hand towel to mop up blood.” In fine print, they also warn that …. “If the delivery person is killed, the cost of their burial will be charged to your account.” Letters to their complaint department, filled with humor, will make readers laugh. There are also interesting sections titled “People to have lunch with,” and one suggestion is Chrysippus, who literally dies of laughter. While readers might roll over laughing during the reading of this book, there is no chance any might actually die of laughter like Chrysippus. But as the book states, “All in all, there are worse ways to go.” (Viking Books for Young Readers)
“Start Now! You Can Make a Difference” by Chelsea Clinton is the book she wrote after the success of “It’s Your World,” but aimed at younger readers. In this nonfiction book, she explains how things work around the world and what’s important to keep us healthy. In the first chapter, titled “Water, Weather and Why We Don’t Drink Our Poop,” she explains the importance of clean water. Headings in this chapter include: What is Clean Water?, Dirty Water, Early Water Systems (think ancient Rome), John Snow’s Discoveries (germs in water), Water Treatment, Bad Water in the U.S., and more. Other chapters include “Rhino Horns and Tiger Teeth Aren’t Magical,” “Hearts, Lungs and Why We Should All Wash Our Hands,” “Food, Hunger and Why Vitamins Are Awesome,” and “Allies, Friends and Standing Up to Bullies.” The book is easy to read and full of simple illustrations, and includes an Index at the end. (Philomel Books)
“Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill” by Heather L. Montgomery and illustrated by Kevin O’Malley, begins with an admission by the author: She’s obsessed with roadkill. She writes, “Every dead animal along the road stirred up questions. What actually happened to those animals? Does anyone ever pick them up? If so, what do they do with them? Why did the chicken/fox/deer try to cross the road in the first place? What if an animal is injured but not killed? How many animals are killed by vehicles every year? And why aren’t we doing anything about it?” She admits that she had been pulling her car off the road to examine the dead animals she would pass while driving. She warns readers, too — literally — writing: “Warning: This book is not for squeamish souls. It’s full of lung-eating parasites, ropes of intestines, and, of course, bloody bodies. ” A footnote includes, “Recently, a Russian kid caught the bubonic plague from a marmot he was skinning. That’s the plague — the one that killed off 50 million people in the fourteenth century. Because this kid got sick, 17 people had to be quarantined and 4,000 had to get vaccinated. I saw a picture of a gut with the plague; and all that’s left of the victim’s hands are crusty, blackened stumps.” That’s just on page 4. Why do animals hang out on roads? She answers that it depends on the animal. Reptiles crave the heat that black roads absorb from the sun. And when it’s cool outside, the reptiles slither to the roads hoping to get warm, but before they have time to heat up, they are slowed down by their cold muscles and can’t get off the road quickly if a car comes. Bighorn sheep, on the other hand, love the salt that gets spread on roads in the winter. There is more, lots and lots more fascinating — and gory — information. Middle grade readers will eat this up! Not literally, ew, gross. But they will love the information and its humorous presentation. (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
Please note: This is based on the final and advance copies provided by the publishers for review purposes.