‘Connect the Dots’ by Keith Calabrese is a wonderful middle grade novel

Connect the Dots by Keith Calabrese

Want to get your child a fabulous novel to read over the summer that’s filled with relatable characters, a genius who has disappeared, and a mystery that is solved by three intrepid children? “Connect the Dots” is Keith Calabrese’s second novel, and it’s filled with the same wonderful messages that his first book, “A Drop of Hope,” was. This one—dare I say it—is even better.

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‘Charlie Thorne and the Lost City’ by Stuart Gibbs is a worthy sequel to the first middle grade adventure about a young genius

Charlie Thorne and the Lost City by
Stuart Gibbs

The first book in this series, “Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation” pitted young genius Charlie against none other than Albert Einstein. In its sequel, “Charlie Thorne and the Lost City,” author Stuart Gibbs pits Charlie against Charles Darwin, and it’s not surprising that Charlie comes out as the more compassionate genius.

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‘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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‘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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‘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

Black history comes alive with these 4 children’s nonfiction books

Black lives and books for Black History Month and every month

It’s February, and that means there are amazing new children’s books that are perfect for every month of the year, not just February, and which celebrate Black activists and Black heroes. Some you might already have read about, but some of these fascinating and important historical figures might be newly revealed to you through these worthwhile reads.

“Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter” is by Shani Mahiri King and Bobby C. Martin, Jr. and is a unique book. Its presentation is brilliant — in terms of color and layout. The cover of the book is the first hint that this book will be filled with colorful graphics and lots of positivity. You actually have to look at it a few times to see the order of the words. And words make up this book from the endpapers that are filled with the names of famous Black people with barely a space between, to the introductory letter from the author about why he wrote this book, to the pages filled with questions like, “Have I told you that we were among the 1st patriots to lay down our lives for the dream of an American independence and that a Black man named Crispus was the very first person to die for that dream?” One side of the page is filled with purple lettering on a teal background and the other side, with a stylized image of Attucks, features purple lettering on an orange background. The key is following the colors of the text to see what goes together. For example, on the page asking (telling) in purple letters that “we have long been world-acclaimed poets and authors,” there are names next to those purple letter in white lettering: Zora, Richard, Langston, James, Ralph, Maya, Toni, Ta-Nehisi, and on the facing page are those names, first and last, with the names of other acclaimed poets and authors such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Jacqueline Woodson, Countee Cullen (a few of my favorites). There’s a double page about Colin kneeling and those who went before him, including, “Jesse punctured the Nazi myth of racial superiority with four gold medals.” At the end are snippets about the lives of 116 Black leaders and artists and athletes. The author points out that choosing which Black lives deserved to shine was difficult, and that these form only a tiny sample. From its sentiment to the powerful presentation, this is a book that deserves a place in every school library and on every classroom bookshelf. (Tilbury House Publishers)

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‘Poisoned’ by Jennifer Donnelly is a beautiful, complex, fractured fairy tale retelling of Snow White

Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly

Jennifer Donnelly’s fairy tale retellings are beautiful in their complexity and their reimagining; but make no mistake, the beauty of the writing doesn’t equate with “beauty” being foremost among the traits of the main characters in her newest fantasy “Poisoned,” or her previous fractured fairy tale, “Stepsister.” Both young adult fairy tales are beautiful in the sense that they take fairy tales in which originally the most important trait of the young women — Snow White and Cinderella — is their beauty and change our concept of what beauty is. Donnelly turns that ideal on its head. And while the Disney cartoon version shows that both fairy tale creations love animals, there isn’t much else about them that has any depth or substance.

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