‘Spy School: Project X’ by Stuart Gibbs: Not just action and humor, also a beautiful depiction of disinformation

Spy School: Project X by Stuart Gibbs

“Spy School: Project X” might just be my favorite novel in the “Spy School” series by acclaimed children’s author Stuart Gibbs. It has all of the action and humor that the previous books in the series do, but in this one, Gibbs centers the plot on a disinformation campaign designed to put a target on our main character, Ben Ripley, who attends the CIA Academy of Espionage for school-aged potential agents.

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Dogs, dogs, dogs — especially in the classroom

What’s the next best thing to having a real, live, sweet dog in the classroom? Having lots of books about dogs in the classroom! And even if you are lucky enough to attend a school where a dog is available in the classroom, lots of dog-themed books are the perfect complement to the pup. Here are some great book choices for elementary age readers — all of which promote the notion that every child should have a dog (and every dog should have a child) and the idea of rescuing a dog. I highly recommend all of these.

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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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Nonfiction animal picture books for back-to-school adventure and learning

Teachers love using picture books to teach concepts to students from kindergarten through middle school. Picture books are usually easy to understand, and the visuals help all kinds of learners access the information. They can be entertaining as well, so children learn reading is fun, not work. Here are some wonderful new picture books to share with the children in your life.

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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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‘Flirting with Fate’ by J. C. Cervantes is a lovely story of destiny, love, and family

Flirting with Fate by J. C. Cervantes

While “Flirting with Fate” by J. C. Cervantes is a young adult fantasy about love and fate, it’s not quite as light and frothy as that might indicate. It’s a touching story, and I actually needed a tissue as I finished reading it because of the evocation of strong emotions at the ending. As might be surmised from the title, the story is about the fickle nature of fate, and whether there is something like destiny and “meant to be.”

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Nonfiction picture books to inform and entertain

Picture books aren’t just for little kids. Savvy educators and parents use picture books as a way to share information with kids as old as middle schoolers. Because picture books are fun, quick, and colorful. And like the picture books listed below, they can be filled with information. Reading a picture book about something like, say, mushrooms, just might lead to a curious child’s exploration into the world of fungi. Here are some great choices that might just pique inquisitive minds.

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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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‘Code Name: Serendipity’ by Amber Smith is a sweet doggy tale of friendship, family, growing up, and most of all, compassion

Code Name: Serendipity by Amber Smith

With her new middle grade novel, “Code Name: Serendipity,” author Amber Smith presents an eleven-year-old fifth grader named Sadie. Sadie doesn’t feel as if she fits in anywhere because now that her best friend, Jude, has moved away, she has no one at school to talk to, ride the bus with, or eat lunch with. At home, her older brother Noah is often unkind and has little time for her. Her two moms are also busy, and her grandfather’s recent declining mental health means they have worries of their own. It doesn’t help that Sadie has a learning disability, even though she prefers to call it a learning difference.

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Children’s books for Black History Month and every other time of year

Moving Forward by Chris Barton

If I were going to teach a unit on prejudice, I’d start with a fabulous picture book, “Moving Forward: From Space-Age Rides to Civil Rights Sit-Ins with Airman Alton Yates,” by Chris Barton and Steffi Walthall. There are many, many wonderful nonfiction books aimed at middle grade readers, books which are perfect for research projects or just informational reading. A powerful picture book like this one about Alton Yates will elicit many emotions in readers. We admire Yates for his dedication and bravery, we are infuriated on his behalf because of the prejudice and mistreatment he endured after serving our country in the military, and we are inspired by his fight, at times endangering his very life, against the Jim Crow laws of the south. The story is factual and gripping. The illustrations are powerful. Alton is a heroic person, and his story is a wonderful example of how one man fought against injustice. It’s a fight that is ongoing. (Beach Lane Books)

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‘When Winter Robeson Came’ by Brenda Woods is a beautifully told middle grade historical fiction

When Winter Robeson Came
by Brenda Woods

I don’t think I’d ever read a book about the 1965 riots in Watts, California, until I read Brenda Woods’ beautifully written book, “When Winter Robeson Came.” There is much that is lovely about the verse in this story: the lyrical language, the way Woods compares feelings to tempos in music, the clever way she compares the discrimination in Mississippi to that in California, and how she manages to make us feel the gamut of emotions that the characters display from fear to joy.

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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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