‘Leeva at Last’ by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Matthew Cordell is destined to be a classic

While “Leeva at Last,” written by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Matthew Cordell, is written with plenty of hyperbole and shows exaggerated cruelty worthy of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda,” at heart this is a beautiful, thoughtful story of standing up for truth and doing the right thing. It’s also a story about the importance of books and reading, and as celebrated children’s author Gary Paulsen shared about his childhood, how books and reading can literally save the life of an abused and neglected child, as it did for him.

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‘Whale Done’ by Stuart Gibbs is yet another brilliant middle grade addition to the FunJunngle series

If there were an award for best first sentence ever in a novel (and maybe there is), Stuart Gibbs deserves it for the beginning of “Whale Done”: “I would never have seen the whale explode if a kangaroo hadn’t burned down my house.” I’m embarrassed to admit that this eighth book is the first I’ve read in the very popular FunJungle series. I’m always hesitant to jump in and start reading in the middle of a series, but I should have learned with his Spy School novels, which I started reading several books into the series, that Gibbs always provides enough backstory that there’s no need to start at the beginning.

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‘Your Pal Fred’ by Michael Rex is a thrilling graphic novel with a powerful message for young readers

I first became acquainted with Michael Rex’s work when I read and reviewed his clever picture book, “Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots.” I loved using that book with my students, teaching them about the difference between facts and opinions. So when I read his latest endeavor, “Your Pal Fred,” I had high expectations. This graphic novel did not disappoint, and to be honest, that surprised me. You see, many graphic novels confuse me. I get bewildered by those with many characters who all seem—at least to my senior eyes—to look somewhat alike. I did not have that problem with “Your Pal Fred” as each character is clearly and cleverly delineated. It’s very clear who each of the characters are and what they represent. The dialogue and the illustrations make this story about friendship and kindness accessible and enjoyable to read.

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‘The Midnighters’ by Hana Tooke is a delightful middle grade historical fiction romp with a soupçon of the supernatural

Many children know the feeling of not fitting in and in “The Midnighters,” author Hana Tooke explores that feeling through her main character, Ema, whose fantastic, incredibly dangerous journey in this novel finally leads to her finding acceptance and respect. Ema was born into a family of scientists, and while she absorbed much of their knowledge, she didn’t feel their passion. What she felt instead was dread, and that feeling made her feel different than the rest of her siblings and her parents. She seemed to know when bad things were going to happen, and the number twelve was an especially dangerous number in her eyes.

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‘The Fort” by Gordon Korman is a thoughtful middle grade novel about secrets and what we hide from even our best friends

The Fort by Gordon Korman

Gordon Korman has been writing books for a long time—since he was twelve years old, in fact. As he explains in the Author’s Note, he wrote his first book in 7th grade as a fluke of an assignment. Scholastic published it two years later, and—luckily for middle grade readers and teachers— he’s been writing ever since. His books are always thoughtful, engaging and realistic. When kids read Korman’s books they see kids a lot like them: imperfect kids, kids with insecurity, kids who don’t fit in, and kids who are different.

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‘Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra’ by Stuart Gibbs is the next foray into the brilliant and exciting world of a young genius

Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra
by Stuart Gibbs

“Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra” by Stuart Gibbs is exactly the kind of middle grade fiction that teachers adore. And there are so many reasons to adore this clever and well-written adventure. The main character, Charlie, is a wonderful main character. She’s smart, adventurous, has high morals, admits her physical failings, and has a bit of an attitude. In short, she’s like many of the kids who will enjoy this series.

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‘Cinder-Nanny’ by Sariah Wilson is a lovely summer rom-com read

Cinder-Nanny by Sariah Wilson

When the temperatures near 100 degrees, summer has officially arrived; a perfect “beach read” to enjoy and celebrate summer weather is “Cinder-Nanny” by Sariah Wilson. In spite of its title, this delightful, light romance doesn’t contain actual magic; but the romance between two unlikely individuals is clever and touching. And while both main characters are devoted to their families, the families they come from are anything but normal.

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‘The Forgotten Five: Map of Flames’ by Lisa McMann is the first in a new middle grade fantasy series

The Forgotten Five: Map of Flames

In her new series, “The Forgotten Five: Map of Flames,” Lisa McMann creates an action-filled fantasy with children who have supernatural powers but must survive on their own after the last adult in their group dies. The five children have always lived in a secret hideaway far from civilization as their parents were master criminals who barely escaped with their lives after a heist gone bad. But gradually, the parents have disappeared after returning to civilization, the first few to gather supplies, and then others left to search for the first three adults who disappeared. The last adult, Louis, got sick and died, leaving his daughter a secret message.

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‘Reckless Girls’ by Rachel Hawkins: When “paradise” is anything but

Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins

With her latest twisty thriller, “Reckless Girls,” author Rachel Hawkins presents us with four young women who end up together on what would appear to be a tropical paradise. A deserted island near Hawaii where the beaches are golden, the water is warm, and the sunsets stunning. With plenty of good food, wine, and charming male companionship, what more could anyone ask for?

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‘The Lock-Eater’ by Zack Loran Clark is an action-filled fantasy with plenty of twists

The Lock-Eater by Zack Loran Clark

In his debut novel, “The Lock-Eater,” author Zack Loran Clark presents us with a very unusual protagonist. Melanie Gate is an orphan, and she lives with other similarly situated girls at the Merrytrails Orphanage for Girls. Mrs. Harbargain is the kindly woman in charge of the orphanage, and she lives with the children and her cat, Abraxas, who is redeemed neither by his looks nor his personality. Melanie has the strange ability of being able to open any door or lock. Other girls in the orphanage have different abilities; one is a talented baker, another is unusually charming, another a gifted storyteller.

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‘Ripped Away’ is historical fantasy as two kids travel back to London at the time of Jack the Ripper

Ripped Away by Shirley Reva Vernick

“Ripped Away” by Shirley Reva Vernick is a middle grade novel, almost a novella, really, at a bit over 100 pages, featuring first person narrator Abe Pearlman. In his very relatable, charming narrative he describes his lonely existence. He’s not in any school clubs nor does he play sports. And when he nods at Mitzi, a classmate he finds interesting, she can’t be bothered to respond with even a nod. As he walks through town on his way home from school, he sees a sign he had never noticed before, “Fortunes and Futures,” in the third story of a building. He decides to investigate.

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‘The Necklace’ by Matt Witten is a fast paced thriller

The Necklace by Matt Witten

“The Necklace” is one of those books that I love reading. Books that are so engaging, you can’t put them down and so you read them in a day. Author Matt Witten does a magnificent job creating a main character, Susan, whom we don’t exactly identify with, but we can certainly empathize with. Thus we really care about her journey—both metaphorical and physical—to seek justice for the daughter who had been brutally raped and murdered twenty years earlier. And while the story seems perhaps a bit far-fetched, reading the Author’s Note at the end shines a light on how something like this could, and maybe actually has, taken place.

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