humor, middle grade

Middle Grade Must-Read: The Book That No One Wanted To Read

The Book That No One Wanted To Read (Candlewick)
Written by Richard Ayoade
Illustrated by Tor Freeman

I first saw Richard Ayoade as Moss on the British sitcom The IT Crowd and immediately knew this guy’s sense of humor was in my wheelhouse. Since then, I’ve followed him across multiple projects, from television acting to hosting and even writing & directing feature films. However, I was unaware he had penned a children’s book until I came across this title in the Candlewick catalog, and I had to read it. This book met all my expectations, but I can also understand if it is not every young reader’s cup of tea. Ayoade has a very dry, British sense of humor, and this book is less about a cohesive narrative than the wit of the writing. The child that will love this book will adore it, and the ones who don’t like it will abhor it.

Continue reading “Middle Grade Must-Read: The Book That No One Wanted To Read”
fantasy, humor, middle grade

Middle Grade Must-Read – This Was Our Pact

This Was Our Pact (First Second)
Written & Illustrated by Ryan Andrews

I fell in love with the Cartoon Network mini-series Over the Garden Wall from my first viewing. It’s become seasonal viewing for us as autumn rolls in. What I love most is how the world surprises you at every turn, delivering magical-realist surprises, both exciting and scary. It exists in the realm of dream logic, where the oddest things just make sense. Even as an adult, it evokes that sense of wonder we had as children reading through a masterfully written middle-grade novel. That magic is captured in the pages of This Was Our Pact, a story about two friends on a bike ride that takes them into strange & wondrous lands just around the corner from their own neighborhood.

Continue reading “Middle Grade Must-Read – This Was Our Pact”
middle grade

Middle Grade Must-Read: Roll For Initiative

Roll For Initiative (Running Press Kids)
Written by Jaime Formato 

Tabletop roleplaying games have opened up children & adults to their creativity for decades, having successfully weathered the inane “satanic panic” of the 1980s. In Roll For Initiative, we meet Riley Henderson, a middle schooler suddenly thrust into a new situation. Her older brother, Devin, has started college across the country in California while her mom is picking up more and more shifts at her retail job. This leaves Riley by herself most afternoons, and into the evening, yearning for the Dungeons & Dragons group her brother was the Dungeon Master for. A chance meeting on the bus has Riley befriending Lucy, who has been curious about D&D but has no one to teach her the game. Despite initial misgivings, Riley decides to be a DM for the first time, and she and Lucy have a lot of fun. Eventually, two more girls join the group, and they spend every Saturday playing out adventures in a magical world.

Continue reading “Middle Grade Must-Read: Roll For Initiative”
graphic novels, middle grade, science

Middle Grade Must-Read: The Leak

The Leak (First Second)
Written by Kate Reed Perry
Illustrated by Andrea Bell

We are in year nine of the Flint, Michigan water crisis. This event has existed through the Obama and Trump presidencies and now into the Biden administration with no sign that the federal government will help these people or even hold state leadership responsible in any meaningful way. The result of providing the citizens of Flint with lead-contaminated water has been an increase in birth defects and a marked increase in the number of children needing special education services in public schools. Flint is a showcase of the complete failure of the system to protect the people. It’s no coincidence that a majority Black city is getting neglected and allowed to suffer. It’s essential for there to be voices speaking up for these people, not letting the rest of us become complacent & ignoring this gross inequity.

Continue reading “Middle Grade Must-Read: The Leak”
black history, black lives, history, middle grade, social-emotional

Middle Grade Must-Reads: Swim Team

Swim Team (HarperAlley)
Written & Illustrated by Johnnie Christmas

For ages: 8-12
The story of how white supremacy erased beautiful cities has been shielded from white people’s view for at least a generation or two since it happened. Only in the last year have I learned that many cities across the country used to have public swimming facilities and even public amusement parks with rides. Where did these places go? When segregation was finally ruled unconstitutional, and these places were opened up to Black families, only then did the municipal leaders decide to shutter and demolish them. Now, most American suburbs and small towns have an absence of places for young people to play safely. I know the small Southern town I come from has nothing for the youth and plenty of drug problems caused by this cancerous boredom. How foolish that some white people should be filled with so much hate that they would torpedo their own children’s & grandchildren’s enjoyment of public spaces. 

Continue reading “Middle Grade Must-Reads: Swim Team”
family, middle grade

Middle Grade Must-Reads: What About Will?

What About Will? (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)
Written by Ellen Hopkins

In 2021, the United States saw a 35% increase in opioid deaths. Over 100,000 people died during those 12 months from overdoses. Data from the CDC appears to show a decline from March 2022 onward, which is good news. However, the numbers are still too high, and the victims are often children, particularly teenagers. If you are an educator, then the chances you have at least one student affected by this health epidemic are relatively high. Younger siblings and relatives watch someone they admire succumb to addiction and not receive the help & understanding needed to overcome it. Author Ellen Hopkins tackles this by penning a very intimate story for middle graders in a rather unexpected format.

Continue reading “Middle Grade Must-Reads: What About Will?”
animals, humor, middle grade

Middle Grade Must-Read: Skunk and Badger

Skunk and Badger (Algonquin Young Readers)
Written by Amy Timberlake
Illustrated by Jon Klassen

I was immediately struck by how unexpectedly unusual and pleasant this book was from the first page. Author Amy Timberlake is tapping into that same creative vein that has given us books like Beatrix Potter’s bibliography, Frog & Toad, The Wind in the Willows, The Odd Couple, and the Wallace & Gromit movies. It’s a world of animals that behave strikingly like people, all the same, with little daily struggles, annoyances, and triumphs. As an adult, I felt very connected to this book and would be fascinated to know how a child would process it. There is no big epic story, just the interactions between these two roommates. It’s a cozy world that I felt compelled to crawl inside and hang out for a while. It’s also a genuinely hilarious book, with humor coming from the characters’ responses to each other and silly anxieties over tackling simple problems.

Continue reading “Middle Grade Must-Read: Skunk and Badger”
fantasy, humor, middle grade

Middle Grade Must-Reads – Once Upon a Tim

Once Upon a Tim (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Written by Stuart Gibbs 
Illustrated by Stacy Curtis

There are more fairy tales than we know what to do with. And among that avalanche of books, there are a nearly countless number of Damsel-In-Distress + Knight-In-Shining-Armor tales. But I can guarantee you none of them are like this one. Seemingly inspired by Monty Python, author Stuart Gibbs has penned an age-appropriate satire of chivalrous literature. Tim is a peasant, like his parents before him, their parents before them, etc. But he doesn’t want to remain a peasant; Tim wants to travel and see the world. An opportunity arises when the Stinx kidnaps Princess Grace of the neighboring kingdom (it’s like a Sphinx but smellier). Prince Ruprecht announces a call for all brave enough to join him on his quest to save her.

Tim jumps at the opportunity but so does his best friend, Belinda. But girls can’t be knights, right? Belinda doesn’t care and disguises herself as a boy to go with Tim. They quickly find only them and the “village idiot” shows up…but don’t underestimate this supposed “idiot.” The party journeys through a landscape where everything is the X of Doom (i.e., Forest of Doom, River of Doom). The sense of humor here never lets up and makes the book a perfect pick for a wisecracking kid. It’s also a quick read at 160 pages. Oh, your kid wants more? There’s already a sequel, The Labyrinth of Doom, with promises of more to come!

fantasy, middle grade

Middle-Grade Must-Read – The Midnight Children

The Midnight Children (Henry Holt & Co [BYR])
Written by Dan Gemeinhart

If you have students that are fans of Strange Things, this will be a must-buy middle-grade novel. It captures that sense of small-town life when a supernatural element is introduced into it, how these new arrivals reshape people’s thinking, opening their minds to bigger things. Ravani Foster is a timid young boy growing up in Slaughterville, named for its central employment hub, a cattle slaughterhouse. One night, as Ravani gazes wistfully out his bedroom window, a truck drives down the street, and seven children jump out. They take up residency in the empty house across the street. Ravani becomes intrigued with them, especially Virginia, who is his age.

Continue reading “Middle-Grade Must-Read – The Midnight Children”
censorship, history, middle grade

Middle Grade Must-Reads – Attack of the Black Rectangles

Attack of the Black Rectangles (Scholastic Press)
Written by Amy Sarig King

In America today there is a growing problem with far right-wing reactionary behavior. A small but loud subset of the population is creating a lot of difficulties in public education by making wild accusations about what happens inside schools. I’m sure you’ve seen the nonsense claims of CRT (a law school theory) being taught in schools, that “furries” are allowed to use litter boxes in schools, and that teachers are grooming children to become transgender. It’s absolute psychopathy used by fascistic political forces to gain power in the country. As educators, we have an obligation to aggressively push back in any way we can against this rhetoric. We must educate our students on media literacy and critical thinking, so they do not get swallowed up in this frenzy.

Continue reading “Middle Grade Must-Reads – Attack of the Black Rectangles”