By David Baldacci
Scholastic Press, 2014
Middle grade fiction, Ages 10 and up
ISBN: 0545652200/ 978-0545652209
Additional formats: e-book, audio
Author David Baldacci has earned a rabidly loyal, worldwide fan base with his fast-paced, plot-driven thrillers. With The Finisher,he makes his middle grade fantasy debut in a novel featuring a wisecracking, clever, and brave young heroine named Vega Jane.
Vega and her brother, John, live in the village of Wormwood, which is surrounded by a dangerous, forbidden wilderness known as the Quag. When Vega witnesses a co-worker fleeing into the Quag, the Council becomes highly suspicious of Vega’s involvement. Members of the Council construct a benevolent façade to cover up the real reasons no one is allowed to leave Wormwood. Vega soon realizes everyone is being manipulated.
Vega Jane is my favorite kind of girl—a headstrong, quick study whose mouth gets ahead of her mind sometimes. She’s motivated by justice and fairness but has yet to learn to choose her battles. Vega is loyal to her family and friends—always ready to put up her dukes and fight on behalf of the underdog—behavior that often comes at a price in fiction as in life. And, oh so worth it!
Baldacci’s mastery of emotional tension and full-throttle action is on fine display. The quirky, lovable cast of characters will endear The Finisher to readers of all ages. – Gigi
By Cynthia Lord
Scholastic Press, 2006
Honors: Newbery Honor Book * Schneider Family Book Award * Mitten Award (Michigan Library Association) * Great Lakes Great Books Award (Michigan) * Maine Student Book Award * Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award (Vermont) * Kentucky Bluegrass Award* Great Stone Face Award (New Hampshire)* Buckeye Children’s Book Award (Ohio)
No toys in the fish tank.
That sounds like an unnecessary rule to mention, but when your brother has autism, there are rules for everything, every day. So, Catherine, age twelve, is keeping a notebook of rules to help him get through his day, rules that typical kids acquire but that have to be spelled out and repeated endlessly for David to follow. Catherine loves her brother, but she sometimes feels saddled with the job of looking after him, especially when her parents aren’t around to help. “Just for a minute” can be a monumental task.
That summer, something wonderful is about to happen that might ease Catherine’s load. A new neighbor is moving in. Could Kristi—pretty and destined to be well-liked at school—be a new friend for Catherine? And how will she feel about David and his unexpected behaviors?
This novel is about the tricky landscape of families that include people with special needs. Cynthia Lord writes with honesty and heart about the fierce love and frustration that defines that experience. She details the embarrassing moments—the shrieks, the undressing in public places, the meltdowns—but also lets us into the moments of pure love and grace that happen, too. I was also especially glad to see the relationship with Jason, a boy Catherine’s age who communicates with a touch board, and I also liked how she drew the parents in all of this, frazzled, loving, sometimes undone.
I think strong girls will relate to this story because it’s about what we’re willing to do to fit in. How far—or not—are we willing to go to let all kids into the circle of their neighborhoods and families? – Meg
By Raina Telgemeier
Awards/Recognitions: *ALA Notable Children’s Book *Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor *Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award *Eisner Award
Raina Telgemeier’s Smile is a hilarious, triumphant orthodontic memoir of the author-illustrator’s middle school to high school years. Girls at that age often have a pretty specific idea of what “normal” means and an equally sure notion that whatever it is, they are decidedly not! Smile captures that universal state of being a totally awesome person yet feeling anything but.
This dental journey begins at the dawn of middle school. One evening coming home from Girl Scouts, Raina takes a hard tumble on the pavement and severely injures her two front teeth. Welcome to the world of headgear, braces, and false teeth. Add to this dental drama a major earthquake, confusion over who exactly is friend or foe, and failing to make the basketball team. Through it all, Raina discovers time and time again that one key to self-acceptance and connecting with others is hidden in that truism: smile and the world smiles back.
Smile was recommended to me last summer by a strong girl who couldn’t…wouldn’t put the book down. Since then, I’ve shared Smile with several girls, and it has quickly become a favorite. The story and the drawings are rich with details, humor, and emotion. The scenes in the dentist’s office actually turned me a little queasy. The full panel of a portion of the October San Francisco skyline, followed by a page of after-school homework being done with the TV on in the background, conveys an incredible sense of stillness and normalcy. There are many such pages – every one of them a feast of words, colors, and images – that will welcome you and invite you to ponder the events and themes of your own life. GA
By Kate Messner, illustrated by Brian Floca
Early reader/Grades 1-5
Marty McGuire is not a girly-girl, but she possesses excellent manners. Marty would never call her classmate Veronica Grace a bossy pants, even though she is one. A born naturalist, Marty yearns to spend her days outside catching bull-frogs and exploring the creek. Oh, she’ll go along, amiably wearing a tiara and practicing a waltz if it means hanging out with her best friend, Annie. But, what matters most to Marty McGuire are the great outdoors, her idol Jane Goodall, and helping Annie remember that it really is more fun to get muddy than to act all prissy.
No one would ever call Marty McGuire a princess. No one that is except her maracas-shaking third-grade teacher, Mrs. Aloi, who casts against type and names Marty for the lead role as princess in the class play. Marty begs, pleads, and downright refuses the role. Thankfully, even Marty McGuire is no match for the double-threat of her mom and Mrs. Aloi. Mom and Mrs. Aloi know that only Marty could bring a sense of daring and a naturalist’s sensibility to the role of princess in The Frog Prince. Ribbit! Let the adventure begin!
Marty McGuire is a delightfully quirky story about a girl who is not afraid to be herself, nor is she afraid to change. Kate Messner weaves many layers into this frog-catching, conformity–resisting, tiara-wearing tale of friendship. The schoolyard and classroom settings are full of detail and authenticity; kids will feel right at home with Marty McGuire and her friends. As an added benefit, by the end of Marty McGuire you’ll know how to tell male frogs from females, which will come in handy when naming the frogs in your pond. GA
By Edwidge Danticat
Awards/Recognitions: *BookSense 76 Pick * Americas Award Honor Book *New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
Grown-up girls of summer will recognize Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat as a two-time National Book Award finalist for Krik? Krak! and Brother, I’m Dying. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Danticat and Haitian-American illustrator, Alix Delinois, published a picture book about Haiti called, Eight Days: A Story of Haiti. In Behind the Mountains, Danticat delivers a first-person narrative of a hard-working Haitian family and the tragedies and triumphs they face.
Thirteen-year-old Celiane Esperance lives in the mountains of Haiti with her mother, Manman, and her brother, Moy. The family patriarch, Victor, has gone ahead to America, where he is living, working, and saving for his family to join him in Brooklyn. The story is structured as Celiane’s journal, a gift from her teacher to reward hard work and good grades. Celiane is told she may use this blank notebook for anything she wishes: “Madame Auguste made such a speech of the whole thing to show me and the other pupils all the uses an empty notebook can have. But when she said I could use you to write down things about myself, I became very glad and decided that is exactly what I am going to do. I will tell you everything I can tell no on else, and you will keep quiet because you have no tongue and you cannot speak. My pen is your tongue and I am your voice so you will never betray my secrets.”
Celiane’s secrets include typical worries and daydreams of a young teen – boys, homework, chores. The notebook also keeps a record of such worries that no child ought ever face – surviving a pipe bomb explosion, a five-year separation from her father, fear for her brother’s life during political upheaval. The diary entries contain a vivid, dynamic portrait of Haiti, too. Alive with color and sound and smells of the city and countryside, Behind the Mountains is a powerful sensory experience. Vibrantly painted tap-taps called Wyclef and sporting phrases such as “your love is my love” fill the streets of Port-au-Prince. The brothy, velvety smell of New Year’s Day soup joumou, squash soup, fills Manman’s kitchen. The steady, reflective, and optimistic voice of Celiane infuses each entry with both wonder and wisdom. GA
Learn more about Edwidge Danticat.