The Children’s Book Review | September 1, 2017
17 New Middle Grade Books for Ages 7-14 (and Beyond)
We’ve picked 17 middle grade books that we think are some of the best new books for preteens and tweens that release during the month of September. Here’s what you can expect to find: a unique portrait of an elephant’s life, a Mark Twain children’s story brought to life by Caldecott Medal winners Philip Stead and Erin Stead, a heartwarming graphic novel about starting middle school from Victoria Jamieson, a wonderfully compelling middle-grade story about friendship, a heartfelt novel for middle-grade readers by National Book Award winner Pete Hautman, and Wishtree from Newbery Medalist and New York Times–bestselling author Katherine Applegate.
Which middle grade book will you share with your growing readers this month?
Written by Chris Harris
Illustrated by Lane Smith
Publisher’s Synopsis: Meet Chris Harris, the 21st-century Shel Silverstein! Already lauded by critics as a worthy heir to such greats as Silverstein, Seuss, Nash and Lear, his hilarious debut poetry collection molds wit and wordplay, nonsense and oxymoron, and visual and verbal sleight-of-hand in masterful ways that make you look at the world in a whole new wonderfully upside-down way. With enthusiastic endorsements from bestselling luminaries as Lemony Snicket, Judith Viorst, Andrea Beaty, and many others, this entirely unique collection offers a surprise around every corner: from the ongoing rivalry between the author and illustrator, to the mysteriously misnumbered pages that can only be deciphered by a certain code-cracking poem, to the rhyming fact-checker in the footnotes who points out when “poetic license” gets out of hand. Adding to the fun: Lane Smith, bestselling creator of beloved hits like It’s a Book and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, has spectacularly illustrated this extraordinary collection with nearly one hundred pieces of appropriately absurd art. It’s a mischievous match made in heaven!
Ages 7-10 | Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers | September 26, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0316266574
Written and Illustrated by Katherine Roy
Publisher’s Synopsis: The savanna is not an easy place to live, even for African elephants, the largest land animals on earth. If it’s a challenge for these 7,000-pound giants, what’s it like for their newborn babies?
An infant elephant has precious little time to learn the incredible array of skills that are necessary to keep up, from projecting her voice across a 10-octave range to using the 100,000 muscles in her trunk to stay hydrated. But this giant-to-be has the perfect classroom–a family herd made up of her mother, sisters, cousins, and aunts. With their help and protection, she’ll learn how to survive, how to thrive, and how to be an elephant.
Award-winning author-illustrator Katherine Roy’s How to Be an Elephant delves into the intricate family dynamics at play in a typical African herd. Drawing upon the latest scientific research and Roy’s own expedition to Kenya, and brimming with lush watercolor illustrations and detailed diagrams, this book vividly portrays the life and development of an elephant from an uncertain newborn into a majestic adult. As informative as it is beautiful, Roy’s unique portrait of an elephant’s life will captivate young explorers and animal lovers alike.
Ages 7-11 | Publisher: David Macaulay Studio | September 19, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1626721784
Written by Dusti Bowling
Publisher’s Synopsis: Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.
Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Sterling Children’s Books | September 5, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1454923459
Written by Mark Twain and Philip C. Stead
Illustrated by Erin Stead
Publisher’s Synopsis: A never-before-published, previously unfinished Mark Twain children’s story is brought to life by Caldecott Medal winners Philip Stead and Erin Stead.
In a hotel in Paris one evening in 1879, Mark Twain sat with his young daughters, who begged their father for a story. Twain began telling them the tale of Johnny, a poor boy in possession of some magical seeds. Later, Twain would jot down some rough notes about the story, but the tale was left unfinished . . . until now.
Plucked from the Mark Twain archive at the University of California at Berkeley, Twain’s notes now form the foundation of a fairy tale picked up over a century later. With only Twain’s fragmentary script and a story that stops partway as his guide, author Philip Stead has written a tale that imagines what might have been if Twain had fully realized this work.
Johnny, forlorn and alone except for his pet chicken, meets a kind woman who gives him seeds that change his fortune, allowing him to speak with animals and sending him on a quest to rescue a stolen prince. In the face of a bullying tyrant king, Johnny and his animal friends come to understand that generosity, empathy, and quiet courage are gifts more precious in this world than power and gold.
Illuminated by Erin Stead’s graceful, humorous, and achingly poignant artwork, this is a story that reaches through time and brings us a new book from America’s most legendary writer, envisioned by two of today’s most important names in children’s literature.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Doubleday Books for Young Readers | September 26, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0553523225
Publisher’s Synopsis: How do you land a rover on Mars, resolve a perpetual traffic jam or save a herd of caribou from potential extinction? Ask an engineer! Author Shannon Hunt presents nine real-life problems for which engineers designed inventive (and even crazy!) solutions. Each was solved using a different field of engineering — from aerospace and mechanical to the new field of geomatics. A helpful seven-step flowchart of the engineering design process is also featured: define the problem, investigate the requirements, develop solutions, design a prototype, test it, improve it and share the idea. These steps are highlighted in each chapter with helpful icons that refer back to the flowchart. Sidebars, biographies of the engineers and fun detailed illustrations by James Gulliver Hancock help flesh out the stories and bring them to life.
This terrific introduction to some fascinating practical applications of engineering is sure to inspire the natural engineer in every child. With its emphasis on real-world connections to the math, science and technology skills applied with critical thinking and creative problem solving, this book is a natural for encouraging STEM education (science, technology, engineering, math). With so many direct curriculum applications for grades three to seven, and in following with the guidelines in the Next Generation Science Standards, this book is a perfect resource for classrooms and libraries, as well as anywhere a makerspace is found. Includes a table of contents, glossary and index.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Kids Can Press | September 5, 20177 | ISBN-13: 978-1771385602
Written by Eucabeth Odhiambo
Publisher’s Synopsis: Auma loves to run. In her small Kenyan village, she’s a track star with big dreams. A track scholarship could allow her to attend high school and maybe even become a doctor. But a strange new sickness called AIDS is ravaging the village, and when her father becomes ill, Auma’s family needs her help at home. Soon more people are getting sick even dying and no one knows why. Now Auma faces a difficult choice. Should she stay to support her struggling family or leave to pursue her own future? Auma knows her family is depending on her, but leaving might be the only way to find the answers to questions about this new disease.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab TM | September 1, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1512427844
Written by Suzanne LaFleur
Publisher’s Synopsis: A war took Mathilde away from her family when she was chosen to serve her country, Sofarende, with other children working on a secret military project.
But now the other children—including her best friend, Megs—have fled to safety, and Mathilde is all alone, determined to complete her mission.
In this powerful and deeply moving sequel to the acclaimed Beautiful Blue World, Mathilde must make her way through a new stage of the war. Haunted by the bold choice she made on the night she chose her country’s future over her own well-being, she clings to the promise Megs made long ago: “Whatever happens, I’ll be with you.”
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books | September 12, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1101939994
Written by Jennifer L. Holm
Illustrated by Matthew Holm
Publisher’s Synopsis: Summer’s over and it’s time for Sunny Lewin to enter the strange and unfriendly hallways of . . . middle school. When her Gramps calls her from Florida to ask how she’s doing, she always tells him she’s fine. But the truth? Sunny is NOT having the best time.
Not only is the whole middle school thing confusing . . . but life at home is confusing, too. Sunny misses her brother Dale, who’s been sent to boarding school. But when Dale comes back, she STILL misses him . . . because he’s changed.
Luckily Sunny’s got her best friend and a mysterious new neighbor on her side . . . because she is NOT going let all this confusion get her down. Instead, she’s going to remain Sunny-side up!
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Graphix | September 12, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0545741729
Written by Barbara Dee
Publisher’s Synopsis: A cancer survivor must readjust to “normal” middle school life in this hopeful novel from the author of Star-Crossed and Truth or Dare.
Norah Levy has just completed two years of treatment for leukemia and is ready to go back to the “real world” of middle school. She knows it’ll be tricky—but like the Greek mythological characters she read about while she was sick, Norah’s up for any challenge.
But seventh grade turns out to be trickier than she thought. Norah’s classmates don’t know what to make of her. Her best friend, Harper, tries to be there for her, but she doesn’t get it, really—and is hanging out with a new group of girls. Norah’s other good friend, Silas, is avoiding her. What’s that about, anyway?
When Norah is placed with the eighth graders for math and science she meets Griffin, a cute boy who encourages her love of Greek mythology and art. And Norah decides not to tell him her secret—that she was “that girl” who had cancer. But when something happens to make secret-keeping impossible, Norah must figure out a way to share her cancer story.
But how do you explain something to others that you can’t explain to yourself? Can Nora take her cue from her favorite Greek myth? And then, once she finds the words, can she move forward with a whole new ‘normal’?
Ages 9-13 | Publisher: Aladdin | September 5, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1481478519
Written and Illustrated by Victoria Jamieson
Publisher’s Synopsis: Calling all Raina Telgemeier fans! The Newbery Honor-winning author of Roller Girl is back with a heartwarming graphic novel about starting middle school, surviving your embarrassing family, and the Renaissance Faire.
Eleven-year-old Imogene (Impy) has grown up with two parents working at the Renaissance Faire, and she’s eager to begin her own training as a squire. First, though, she’ll need to prove her bravery. Luckily Impy has just the quest in mind—she’ll go to public school after a life of being homeschooled! But it’s not easy to act like a noble knight-in-training in middle school. Impy falls in with a group of girls who seem really nice (until they don’t) and starts to be embarrassed of her thrift shop apparel, her family’s unusual lifestyle, and their small, messy apartment. Impy has always thought of herself as a heroic knight, but when she does something really mean in order to fit in, she begins to wonder whether she might be more of a dragon after all.
As she did in Roller Girl, Victoria Jamieson perfectly—and authentically—captures the bittersweetness of middle school life with humor, warmth, and understanding.
Ages 9-12 | Publisher: Dial Books | September 5, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0525429999
Written by Jessica Miller
Publisher’s Synopsis: Abandoned by her mother and neglected by her scientist father, timid Elizabeth Murmur has only her fearless friend, Zenobia, for company. And Zenobia’s company can be very trying! When Elizabeth’s father takes them to live in his family home, Witheringe House, Zenobia becomes obsessed with finding a ghost in the creepy old mansion and forces Elizabeth to hold séances and wander the rooms at night. With Zenobia’s constant pushing, Elizabeth investigates the history of the house and learns that it does hold a terrible secret: Her father’s younger sister disappeared from the grounds without a trace years ago.
Elizabeth and Zenobia is a wonderfully compelling middle-grade story about friendship, courage, and the power of the imagination.
Ages 9-13 | Publisher: Amulet Books | September 19, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1419727245
Written by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace
Publisher’s Synopsis: In the years following the Civil War, “Arctic fever” gripped the American public, fueled by myths of a fertile, tropical sea at the top of the world. Several explorers attempted to find a route to the North Pole, but none succeeded. Bound by Ice follows the journey of George Washington De Long and the crew of the USSJeannette, who departed San Francisco in the summer of 1879 hoping to find a route to the North Pole. However, in mid-September the ship became locked in ice north of Siberia and drifted for nearly two years before it was crushed by ice and sank. De Long and his men escaped the ship and began a treacherous journey in extreme polar conditions in an attempt to reach civilization. Many, including De Long, did not survive. A riveting true-life adventure, Bound by Ice includes excerpts from De Long’s extensive journals, which were recovered with his body; newspapers from the time; and photos and sketches by the men on the expedition. The title also includes an epilogue, author’s note, bibliography, source notes, and index.
Ages 9-18 | Publisher: Calkins Creek | September 19, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1629794280
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Publisher’s Synopsis: In luminous paintings and arresting poems, two of children’s literature’s top African-American scholars track Arturo Schomburg’s quest to correct history.
Where is our historian to give us our side? Arturo asked.
Amid the scholars, poets, authors, and artists of the Harlem Renaissance stood an Afro–Puerto Rican named Arturo Schomburg. This law clerk’s life’s passion was to collect books, letters, music, and art from Africa and the African diaspora and bring to light the achievements of people of African descent through the ages. When Schomburg’s collection became so big it began to overflow his house (and his wife threatened to mutiny), he turned to the New York Public Library, where he created and curated a collection that was the cornerstone of a new Negro Division. A century later, his groundbreaking collection, known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, has become a beacon to scholars all over the world.
Ages 9-12 | Publisher: Candlewick | September 12, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0763680466
Written by Pete Hautman
Publisher’s Synopsis: Competitive eating vies with family expectations in a funny, heartfelt novel for middle-grade readers by National Book Award winner Pete Hautman.
David can eat an entire sixteen-inch pepperoni pizza in four minutes and thirty-six seconds. Not bad. But he knows he can do better. In fact, he’ll have to do better: he’s going to compete in the Super Pigorino Bowl, the world’s greatest pizza-eating contest, and he has to win it, because he borrowed his mom’s credit card and accidentally spent $2,000 on it. So he really needs that prize money. Like, yesterday. As if training to be a competitive eater weren’t enough, he’s also got to keep an eye on his little brother, Mal (who, if the family believed in labels, would be labeled autistic, but they don’t, so they just label him Mal). And don’t even get started on the new weirdness going on between his two best friends, Cyn and HeyMan. Master talent Pete Hautman has cooked up a rich narrative shot through with equal parts humor and tenderness, and the result is a middle-grade novel too delicious to put down.
Ages 10-14 | Publisher: Candlewick | September 12, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0763690700
Written by Katherine Applegate
Publisher’s Synopsis: Trees can’t tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories. . . .
Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”―people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood.
You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever.
Funny, deep, warm, and nuanced, Wishtree is Newbery Medalist and New York Times–bestselling author Katherine Applegate at her very best―writing from the heart, and from a completely unexpected point of view.
This book has Common Core connections.
Ages 10-14 | Publisher: Feiwel & Friends | September 26, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1250043221
Written by Paul Griffin
Publisher’s Synopsis: Fans of Because of Winn Dixie will adore this warm and heart-wrenching story of the friendship between a boy and a pig who thinks it’s a dog.
Eleven-year-old Lorenzo Ventura knows heroes are rare—like his father, who died in the war, or his friend Paloma Lee, who fearlessly pursues her dream of being a famous musician. Renzo would never describe himself as a hero, but his chance comes when he adopts Marty, a runt piglet.
Marty is extraordinary—he thinks he’s a dog and acts like one too—and his bond with Renzo is truly one of a kind. At first, the family farm seems like the perfect home for Marty, but as he approaches 350 pounds, it becomes harder for Renzo to convince his mom that a giant pig makes a good pet. So when Marty causes a dangerous (and expensive) accident, Renzo knows Marty’s time is up. He’d do anything and everything for his best friend, but will everything be enough to save Marty?
Paul Griffin masterfully melds the heartrending and the hopeful in this unforgettable story about the power of friendship . . . and the unsung heroes all around us.
Ages 10-14 | Publisher: Dial Books | September 19, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0399539077
Written by David Barclay Moore
Publisher’s Synopsis: A boy tries to steer a safe path through the projects in Harlem in the wake of his brother’s death in this outstanding debut novel that’s been described as a “fast and furious read in which we meet some amazing people, people that stay with us” by Newbery Honor and National Book Award–winning author Jacqueline Woodson.
It’s Christmas Eve in Harlem, but twelve-year-old Lolly Rachpaul and his mom aren’t celebrating. They’re still reeling from his older brother’s death in a gang-related shooting just a few months earlier. Then Lolly’s mother’s girlfriend brings him a gift that will change everything: two enormous bags filled with Legos. Lolly’s always loved Legos, and he prides himself on following the kit instructions exactly. Now, faced with a pile of building blocks and no instructions, Lolly must find his own way forward.
His path isn’t clear—and the pressure to join a “crew,” as his brother did, is always there. When Lolly and his friend are beaten up and robbed, joining a crew almost seems like the safe choice. But building a fantastical Lego city at the community center provides Lolly with an escape—and an unexpected bridge back to the world.
David Barclay Moore paints a powerful portrait of a boy teetering on the edge—of adolescence, of grief, of violence—and shows how Lolly’s inventive spirit helps him build a life with firm foundations and open doors.
Ages 10+ | Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers | September 19, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1524701246
*Header image form The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine written by Mark Twain and Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin Stead (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2017)
Which of these middle grade books will you be sharing with your tweens? For more of the best new middle grade books for kids ages 8 through 14, follow along with our articles tagged with New Books for Kids, Middle Grade Books, Books for Ages 4-8, and Books for Ages 9-12.