Tag Archives: Middle grade fiction

Amina’s Gift by Hena Khan

Three or so years ago, we were lucky to have a family move in across the street from our house with 3 children: 2 girls and a boy.  These were kids that played, laughed, biked, were outside and active and exactly who my kids hoped for in a new family.  Hours were spent playing with these kids.  We know them, care for their family, and miss them dearly.

Like neighbors do, we exchanged holiday greetings and went to their birthday parties.  The typical librarian, I often gave the children books as gifts; however, the stories never featured characters that were mirrors of themselves and their life experiences.  My neighbors didn’t get to read stories about kids like them – Pakistani American children growing up in the U.S.

Amina’s Voice, published by Simon and Schuster’s new Salaam Reads imprint, changes that.

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Meet Amina.  Much like many middle-schoolers, she wants to keep a low-profile.  It’s a bit harder with a unique name like hers, something her best friend Soojin understands.  But Soojin starts taking about making her name more “American” and mean-girl Emily, who has made fun their cultures (Pakistani and Korean) for years, starts joining them for lunch and projects, throwing Amina’s world into chaos.  At home, it’s no better: there’s no chance of escaping unnoticed when she and her older brother are signed up to give a Quran recitation at her mosque with the expectation of excellence from her parents and visiting uncle from Pakistan.  When the mosque is the target of a hate crime, Amina’s home and school communities come together in unexpected – yet fully believable – ways.  Khan knows her background and gives all readers an accessible story that will educate as well as entertain.  An important book for all libraries.  Highly recommended.  Share with ages 8-12.

Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan

It’s a gift to be able to write for children.  It’s really impressive, though, to be able to write in an authentic child voice: to represent the conversations, behaviors, and internal monologues with developmentally-appropriate actions, thoughts, and dialogue.  A few authors and characters spring to mind as exceptional examples, including Beverly Cleary’s Ramona and Kevin Henkes’s Billy Miller.

They have some company with Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Julia Marks.  Sloan impressively nails both a solid kid-friendly plot line and authentic voice and actions in Short.  

Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan

It’s summer vacation, and Julia’s brother wants to audition for the local summer play.  She does not.  Julia has far more important things to do this summer, like writing letters to her friends and mourning her dog Ramon’s death.  But she tags along to the audition, reads for a part, and is surprised to learn that she’s cast in the production of The Wizard of Oz…as a Munchkin.  This is a sore point, as she’s shorter-than-average and a bit sensitive about it.  Following through in the role – with the support of fellow cast members and little adults – Julia learns what commitment means as she discovers the strength of community, both on stage and in her town.  By getting out of her comfort zone, she starts daydreaming less and doing more – both in the play and in the real world.

Sloan has crafted Julia’s world with a deft hand: it can be scattered at times as Julia flits from one thought to another.  However, this is what makes Short exceptional: it is all-kid. What child doesn’t jump from one idea to the next?  Consider this passage:

Julia’s loss of her dog is a big part of who she is – Ramon is woven through the narrative – and her flitting thoughts about his smell, collar and the carving are as authentic as Ramona cracking an egg on her head or Billy’s fear of performing poetry stage.  High praise, there.

Share with ages 8-12.  Highly recommended, especially for teachers looking for a read-aloud with strong voice.

Short released January 31, 2017.  Thanks to Penguin Young Readers for an advance copy.

Cheers, y’all! –arika

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol

Recommending books – to students, teachers, colleagues, friends, neighbors – is the bread and butter of any librarian worth her or his salt.  But as a librarian MOM, it’s a bit different.  Because Mom comes first, and not often will one’s child take mom’s advice – be it about slowing down on the slick grass or wearing a coat on a rainy day or trying a new title – without some resistance.  However, ‘resistance is futile’: this librarian mom doesn’t give up when it comes to books. My two children are starting to figure this out.  Case in point: James Nicol’s The Apprentice Witch.

At ALA in Orlando in June, I’d picked up a pre-release copy. Printed on 8×11 paper and bound by plastic combs, logic said that a book shared in such an early state must be exciting. After a quick read, the first person that came to mind was my daughter – this was similar to some of her favorite books.  But she was not interested in Mom’s opinion, even with a stellar booktalk.  So I tried a new tactic and started reading it aloud one night (this, by the way, is a great trick).  Within two chapters she was hooked, and so was my 7 year old son.  That night, they stayed up and she read aloud to him about Arianwyn and her “friends”.  She finished it less than a week later to rave review.  See for yourself.  🙂

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol

summary & review by JMD, age 9

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol is a fascinating book to read. A young girl that is about 16 years of age named Arianwyn is becoming a witch, and according to schedule, every young girl that is her age that she can test to see if she can become a real witch. Everything seems to be going right when then something goes wrong… Arianwyn fails the test. Her punishment is to protect a small town, Lull, that Arianwyn soon finds out is a town with big problems.

I enjoyed reading The Apprentice Witch because there is a lot of magic and fantasy put into the book and those are things that I look for when I look at books. I recommend this book for ages 8 and up. Also, this book is for fans of the series Upside-Down Magic and Fairy Tale Reform School.

The Apprentice Witch is out July 25, 2017 in the US and released July 6, 2016 in the UK

And a little side note: It was serendipitous that I picked up this advance copy at Scholastic’s Chicken House reception. Chicken House is Scholastic’s publishing arm for titles originally published in the UK.  Little did I know at that time that I’d be moving to the UK!

 As seen at the 2017 London Book Fair at the Scholastic booth.

Cheers, y’all! 🙂 arika

Best of 2016: Middle Grade/Chapter Books

It is nearly impossible to quantify what “Best” means, especially in books. To me, it means a story that I can clearly recall that did something exceptional: plot, characters, theme, mood, language, or overall feel.  These books envelop most of the previous traits…truly 16 of the Best of 2016 for middle-grade readers. I promise there is something for everyone!

Best thing I’ve read this year and can’t stop talking about and think EVERY SINGLE PERSON should read because it’s the best (and worst) of humanity with nary a human in sight: The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

Best fast-paced book with a lasting message: Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Best villain EVER: Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Best feel-good story on mistakes, consequences, and second chances with a solid helping of love: All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor

Best overarching depiction of 9/11 in a realistic narrative: Nine, Ten: a September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Best happy-dog-but-heartstrings-sad story of friendship: When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin

Best magical realism: Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager

Best action/adventure/historical fiction mash-up: Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart

Best portrayal of the effects of addition on a family in a true middle-grade novel: The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

Best “I wish I had this in middle school” illustrated novel: Frazzled by Booki Vivat

Best first two sentences of a novel “Let’s get this part over with – it’s no secret. My dog, Maxi, dies.”: Maxi’s Secret by Lynne Plourde

Best rum-running, fire-alarm-pulling, baby-toting main character: Full of Beans by Jennifer L Holm

Best true fantasy with a dash of folklore: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Best baseball book featuring a female protagonist (something that hasn’t happened since The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson)The Distance to Home by Jenn Bishop

Best secondary characters who steal the show: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo