by Jacqueline Kelly
Henry Holt, 2009
Middle grade, fiction
Ages 9-12, Grades 4-7
Additional formats: ebook
Newbery Honor Award * IRA Children’s Book Award, North Carolina Young Adult Book Award, TN YA Volunteer State Book Award, Virginia M. Law Award * Josette Frank Award * Chicago Public Library Best of the Best * Junior Library Guild
Set at the end of the 19th century, eleven-year old Calpurnia Virginia Tate is having a difficult time learning”housewifery” things. She prefers swimming in the river or thinking about science to cooking or knitting. “Callie” sets out to be independent and do what she likes while learning to bond with her grandfather. He helps her learn about the natural sciences and how to cope with change and growing up.
by Teresa Harris
Clarion Books, 2014
Middle grade, contemporary fiction
Ages 8 – 12
Additional formats: ebook
What is worse than being sent to stay with relatives you don’t like? Answer: Not being sure if and when your parents are ever coming back for you.
Set in a fictional town called Black Lake, Virginia, The Perfect Place is the story of twelve-year-old Treasure, whose father has been gone for two months. Unlike his other disappearances in the past, this time he hasn’t come back to the family or made contact. Fed up, Treasure’s mother decides it’s time for her to take Treasure and her sister, Tiffany, on a trip to find him. They vacate the premises in the middle of the night and travel south to meet their gruff Great Aunt Grace (GAG) who lives in small-town Virginia. Grace doesn’t care if her smoking bothers Treasure’s asthma and seems generally to dislike children.
This is a funny and tender story about three generations of women learning how to help each other survive disappointments.
by Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books, Random House, 2015
Middle grade, contemporary fiction
Ages 10 – 14
Additional formats: ebook and audio
Multiple “best books lists” of 2015
Three middle school friends, a perfect set of three: Brig, an accident survivor who should have died when she was eight; Tabitha, ever-practical and cautious—the voice of reason; and Em, the popular soccer queen, now in a relationship with an 8th grade boy who encourages her to send him a selfie in jeans and a bra.
Newbery-award-winner Rebecca Stead fleshes out the crazy world of middle school and the dicey slope of everyday decisions and peer pressure with a wonderfully interconnected cast. I was especially fond of how she used the supporting characters to move the story along. Jamie, Brig’s brother, is locked in a dumb bet about how many steps he can take in a single day. Sherm, a classmate, writes letters to a grandfather that he refuses to speak to. A nameless second-person teen has run away for a day in the face of the fact that her “best friend” is a mean girl. Readers will find versions of themselves in these pages—and plenty of familiar experiences to keep them reading, thinking, and talking.
Evelyn lives with her mother and her feisty grandmother in Spanish Harlem, New York City in the 1970s. The Black Panthers and the Young Lords are insisting on social change—and they’ll use sit-ins and a church takeover to get their point across to city officials, if necessary.
I admire this novel for its look at the Civil Rights era in New York City—especially through the Latino lens. Sonia Manzano offers up a story about girl awakening to the impact of culture and racism on her community—and what it takes to do something about it.
by S.E. Grove
Viking Penguin, 2014
Upper middle grade(due to complexity), fantasy
Grades 5 and up, Ages 10 and up
Additional formats: ebook and paperback
First, the background: In the Great Disruption of 1799, the world broke apart.
Continents were unfastened not only physically but also from time. Now the world is a strange mix of different Ages. Europe, for example, was plunged into a remote century, while the United States became an uneasy mix of adjoining Ages: the Baldlands in the West, Prehistoric Snows to the north, and New Patagonia to the south. Sophia’s Boston is now in New Occident.
It is 1891, and Sophia lives with her uncle, the great “cartologer” Shadrack, who is looking after her in the absence of her parents who, eight years earlier, left on a mission and never returned.
Together in Boston, Shadrack teaches Sophia to read all kinds of maps—some that are locked tighter than the hardest puzzles and those that also chart time. When Shadrack is brutally kidnapped, it’s up to Sophia and her friend, Theo, to find him. The only trouble is, she has never seen any other part of the world except through maps. Can she do it? The world-building is amazing in this smart, girl-led adventure.
by Justin Scott Parr
Gum Shoe Press, 2012
Ages 12 and up
Best friends, Sage Carrington and Isabel Flores, waste no time making the most of their summer vacation. When they discover a vintage treasure map near the Washington Monument, they get busy solving clues and following leads. Obstacles abound! The biggest one being neighborhood bully, Edwin. With their smarts, creativity, and savvy mentor, Aunt Druscilla, the bfs set out to find the hidden treasure.
Adventure unfolds and bonds of friendship grow strong in Washington D.C., a perfect backdrop for a Nancy Drew type sleuth story involving history, science, and aerodynamics.
by Louise Erdrich
Hyperion Paperbacks, 1999
Middle grade fiction, Age 9 and Up
10: 0786814543/13: 978-078681454
Additional formats: Hardcover, audio
Honors: National Book Award Finalist * Jane Addams Award Honor * WILLA Award * National Cowboy Hall of Fame Western Heritage Winner
The shero in the Birchbark House, set on Madeline Island off Lake Superior in 1847, receives her name from an Ojibwa girl who was recorded as living on the island in nineteenth century. Author Louise Erdrich writes, “Dear Reader, when you speak this name out loud you will be honoring the life of an Ojibwa girl who lived long ago.”
Now, speak her name: Omakayas.
A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwa, Erdrich (National Book Award winner and Pulitzer Prize Finalist) wrote The Birchbark House to retrace her family’s history. The story is told from the perspective of seven-year-old Omakayas, or little frog. Young readers will be completely absorbed by the adventures of Omakayas as she works alongside the women and babysits her little brother. As many young children do, she feels jealous of her older sibling and annoyed by her younger ones. Working side-by-side with her mother and grandmother, she experiences an ability to communicate well with animals, the earth, and her elders, all of which guide her in toward the gift of healing.
When a smallpox breakout ravishes the community, Omakayas is the only one not infected. Her talent for listening to the earth and all its creatures soon helps her care for her family, and she must use all of her power to save them.
The story unfolds in four parts—summer, fall, winter, and spring—and the narrative builds inside the rhythms and rituals of Ojibwa life. Its back matter includes an Author’s Note on Ojibwa language and a glossary and punctuation guide of Ojibwa terms, offering opportunity for continued depth and discovery of Omakayas’s world.
Many have contrasted The Birchbark House to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. Wilder’s books carry a cultural bias embedded in the white encroachment on native land and culture as America pushed its boundaries west – a contrast worth noting. The Birchbark House testifies to the decimation and destruction that resulted, yet Erdrich most strongly evokes a feeling of connection among all people, with the earth, and to an Ojibwa girl named Omakayas. – Gigi