‘Last Gate of the Emperor’ by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen is a creative middle grade scifi adventure

Last Gate of the Emperor

In this action-packed middle grade scifi adventure, “Last Gate of the Emperor,” by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen, a young adventurous boy with a mischievous streak a mile wide ditches school to play an augmented reality game to try to win money to make his and his uncle’s life a bit easier. He and his Uncle Moti live on Addis Prime, and they have moved often and struggled to survive on the many jobs that Uncle Moti can get. Yared doesn’t know what happened to his parents, and his uncle tells him stories about civilizations under attack and trains him in sword play and battle strategies. It’s certainly a strange life, and Yared is determined to make it better by winning big in the game.

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‘Endling: The Only’ is the magnificent conclusion to a middle grade series about truth, power, and standing up

“Endling: The Only’ by Katherine Applegate

The “Endling” series by Katherine Applegate, of which “The Only” is the conclusion, is her most powerful story yet. And that’s huge. “The One and Only Ivan” is rightly beloved by almost every student in my elementary school, and by children and adults around the world. It’s a story that grabs hearts and connects readers with the characters in a manner that becomes unforgettable. The “Endling” series will also grab hearts, and readers will absolutely connect with the narrator, Byx, a Dairne, and practically the last of her species. But readers will also learn about what happens when greed is allowed to reign supreme and when power becomes more important than humanity. It’s a story that follows one young very human-like narrator in a story that’s not only a coming-of-age story but also an allegory about our world. As with “The One and Only Ivan” and all of Applegate’s novels, we are enthralled with her brilliantly drawn characters and the plot that takes us on an emotional rollercoaster.

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‘The Wild Huntsboys’ by Martin Stewart is a tale of intrepid boys, a girl, and the fairies who want to kill them

The Wild Huntsboys by Martin Stewart

In “The Wild Huntsboys,” Martin Stewart makes sure we understand that fairies are not beautiful, kind, generous magical beings who grant wishes. There is no fairy godmother that will provide a ballgown and carriage. Rather, if you make one misstep, you might be hunted down and killed in a manner almost too gruesome to consider. Those are the fairies that Luka must confront after he fails to do the one thing his sister asked of him before she was evacuated during a war.

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‘The Messengers: Greystone Secrets 3’ by Margaret Peterson Haddix is a middle grade scifi novel about bravery and what happens when people look the other way

The Messengers by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Margaret Peterson Haddix completes the “Greystone Secrets” trilogy with the conclusion, “The Messengers.” Like many of her middle grade novels, this one has a clear message for young readers. It’s a message that teachers across the country echo: Be an upstander, not a bystander. In this trilogy, we see what happens when evil grows and people just look the other way, each hoping someone else will confront those who hope to control their country through lies and fear.

In the first book, the Greystone children discover that three children, with the same names and birthdays as they, were kidnapped. Then their mother leaves on a mysterious “business trip.” They must solve the cryptic and coded clues left by their mother to find out where she’s gone. This first book ends on a cliffhanger. It’s in this book that we first see a theme that is repeated throughout all three books: that siblings Emma, Chess, and Finn are stronger together and stronger through their love for each other. In the second book, they must go back to the alternate world that their parents were from, and where their mother has been imprisoned. They must save her. While this book has a satisfying conclusion, we know that the siblings are determined to help those left in a world that holds no hope for its residents.

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‘Hold Back the Tide’ by Melinda Salisbury is a thrilling, inspiring tale of bravery and things that only come out at night

Hold Back the Tide by Melinda Salisbury

Want a story that will grab you from the first sentence and hold your attention to the last? “Hold Back the Tide” by Melinda Salisbury is just such a read. It begins, “Here are the rules of living with a murderer.” And the suspense grows and grows as we keep reading, desperate to find out how the hero, our feisty, brave, selfless, and intelligent main character, fights to prevail against a life in which the cards all seem to be dealt against her.

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‘Starfish’ by Lisa Fipps is a sensitively written middle grade novel in free verse about image and bullies

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

“Starfish” is Lisa Fipps’ debut novel, and it’s a winner. Think Jennifer Weiner for middle grade readers and you will come close to picturing this book. It’s about Ellie, who is known as Splash for an unfortunate exclamation made by her older sister when she did a cannonball into the family pool at age five. It’s tough being a five-year-old and having your mother and everyone in your family berate you for your weight. The only one on Ellie’s side is her dad, but it’s not enough.

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Picture books with memorable animals

Kids and animals go together like peanut butter and jelly. Books with animals naturally interest children, and these five picture books include a range of funny, interesting, and just plain curious animals who will fascinate young readers. From an inquisitive owl to an angry bear, a grandmotherly wolf to a white peacock, the range and the humor in these stories will encourage not only good discussion but also a bit of laughter.

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‘City Spies: Golden Gate’ by James Ponti is a perfect middle grade spy story

City Spies: Golden Gate by James Ponti

“City Spies: Golden Gate” is the sequel to “City Spies,” and both middle grade action books will be loved by those who enjoy reading novels that are quick-paced, filled with interesting characters, and boast satisfying endings. This series doesn’t fail to entertain, and even readers who haven’t read the first book in the series will be able to start right in on the second book, although it’s more fun getting in on the ground floor, so to speak.

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Three important nonfiction picture books teach about wildlife and conservation

Nonfiction picture books for children are an essential way of emphasizing the importance of reading informational text to learn about the world around us. Most children are fascinated by animals and the environment they see every time they venture outdoors, whether it’s a city environment, like the cougar encounters in “Cougar Crossing: How Hollywood’s Celebrity Cougar Helped Build a Bridge for City Wildlife” or a coastal environment such as those in “Chase the Moon, Tiny Turtle” and “Beneath the Waves.” These three picture books span a wide reader audience from the simply rhyming story of turtles hatching and trying to reach the sea to the much more complex National Geographic Kids book about myriad creatures who live on, under, and near the ocean. Continue reading

‘A Dog’s Day: I Am Sammy, Trusted Guide’ by Catherine Stier is one in a early chapter book series about working dogs

“A Dog’s Day” is a new series by Catherine Stier for early chapter book readers about working dogs and their various different jobs. In “A Dog’s Day: I Am Sammy, Trusted Guide,” readers learn about guide dogs and what they do. Sammy, the working dog, tells his story in first person narration and we learn about his training and how important it is that guide dogs be able to practice something called “intelligent disobedience.” That’s an important concept for children to learn, and they also learn that it’s important not to bother working dogs or ask to pet them because they shouldn’t be distracted. The story is told in an engaging manner and Sammy’s adventures are exciting enough to keep the readers interested. The illustrations by Francesca Rosa add visual interest for young readers making the jump from picture books and early readers to short chapter books. Continue reading

‘Separate No More: The Long Road to Brown v. Board of Education’ by Lawrence Goldstone is an important nonfiction young adult history of segregation and bigotry

separate no more

“Separate No More: The Long Road to Brown v. Board of Education” by Lawrence Goldstone is an important nonfiction young adult history of segregation and bigotry beginning in 1892 in the famous Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson. Goldstone writes the story of segregation and institutionalized racism and bigotry as if writing a novel, and many of the historical figures and events he shares become real and present. Continue reading

‘Champ and Major: First Dogs’ by Joy McCullough is a celebration of the most important new White House occupants — the dogs!

Champ and Major: First Dogs

Let’s face it. While Joe and Jill Biden are fabulous new occupants of the White House, the new residents that are exciting the hearts and minds of animal lovers across the world are their two dogs: Champ and Major. Major is especially a celebration in light of the fact that he was a shelter dog that the Bidens fostered, then adopted before moving into the White House. A new picture book, “Champ and Major: First Dogs” by Joy McCullough and illustrated by Sheyda Abvabi Best celebrates these two four-legged Biden family members.

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