The Polar Vortex is back, the weather is keeping everyone inside, and it’s possible you are being subjected to another day of “Mom/Dad, I’m bored!” The weekend ahead looms, cold and dreary for much of the US. If this sounds familiar, I have just the thing to keep your kiddos occupied – check out my list (Part 1) of some entertaining middle grade books – perfect for a snow day. (This roundup of some of my favorite books from 2018 contains affiliate links.)
These books all share a general theme of overcoming obstacles of one sort or another. A few of them are laugh out loud funny while tackling topics that have some weight to them; others are really beautiful and thoughtful and stick with you for a while. And I’ll be honest – one or two cover some tough subjects but are worth the conversation with your child afterwards. I had my middle schooler read a few of these once I finished them, and her feedback was all thumbs up!
SquintSquint Published by Shadow Mountain on 2018-10
Genres: Young Adult, Art & Architecture, Social Themes, Friendship, Special Needs
Buy on Amazon
The hero of my comic books can shoot lasers from his eyes when he squints. But it might not be enough to save the Empress. What he'll need most of all is a friend named Diamond Girl.
Flint loves to draw. In fact, he's furiously trying to finish his comic book so he can be the youngest winner of the "Find a Comic Star" contest. He's also rushing to finish because he has an eye disease that could eventually make him blind.
At school, Flint meets McKell. She's new girl and doesn't seem to have trouble making friends. She does have a problem with how some of her new friends treat this boy they call "Squint." He seems nice and really talented. He also seems like the kind of person who wouldn't laugh at you. That's important, because McKell has hidden talents of her own but is worried about what will happen if she shares them.
Squint is the inspiring story of two new friends dealing with their own challenges, who learn to trust each other, believe in themselves, and begin to truly see what matters most.
Squint is the second book by husband/wife duo Chad Morris and Shelly brown. (I reviewed their first book, Mustaches for Maddie, here, and I’ll recommend that one, too.) Flint’s personality is irrepressible, and I think older elementary readers and middle grade readers will love him. We all have our ways of coping and Flint and McKell delight in theirs.
After ZeroAfter Zero by Christina Collins
Genres: JUVENILE FICTION, Family, Parents, Siblings, Social Themes, Death & Dying, Friendship, Bullying, Depression & Mental Illness
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"Powerful and poetic." --John David Anderson, author of Posted and Ms. Bixby's Last Day
Elise carries a notebook full of tallies, each page marking a day spent at her new public school, each stroke of her pencil marking a word spoken. A word that can't be taken back. Five tally marks isn't so bad. Two is pretty good. But zero? Zero is perfect. Zero means no wrong answers called out in class, no secrets accidentally spilled, no conversations to agonize over at night when sleep is far away.
But now months have passed, and Elise isn't sure she could speak even if she wanted to--not to keep her only friend, Mel, from drifting further away--or to ask if anyone else has seen her English teacher's stuffed raven come to life. Then, the discovery of a shocking family secret helps Elise realize that her silence might just be the key to unlocking everything she's ever hoped for...
Praise for After Zero: "This tender and truthful book stays with you long after the words have gone." --Patricia Forde, author of The List"A must read. After Zero reminds us of so many loved ones of those suffering from anxiety or depressive disorders. It is a story that will hopefully foster empathy and maybe even communication with our 'quiet' peers." --Wesley King, author of OCDaniel
Ok, so I absolutely ADORED After Zero. This is a moving, beautiful story for middle schooler and adults alike. Elise is a likable character, and her anxiety and fear of speaking lest she hurt someone’s feeling or say the wrong thing might feel relatable. But the longer she goes without speaking, the more difficult it becomes to speak out, and at times I was rooting for her to just say something and defend herself.
There is a bit of magical realism in the book as her teacher’s stuffed raven comes to life. This is a story with a lot of twists and turns – something you might not expect from the synopsis – which keeps the plot moving quickly while you try to figure things out on your own. This is a great story to read and talk about with your kids, too, as it touches on themes of kindness and forgiveness, and opens the door to talk about anxiety.
After Zero is one of my top picks from 2018.
The Boy From TomorrowThe Boy from Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis
Published by AMBERJACK PUB on May 21, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Social Themes, Friendship, Paranormal, Occult & Supernatural, Ghost Stories
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In 1915, eleven-year-old Josie Clifford lives in a home in Edwardstown with her little sister, their young tutor, and their mother, a psychic medium celebrated and feared by their community. In the summer of 2015, twelve-year-old Alec Frost moves into the same Edwardstown home with his mother. One day, Alec discovers a hand-painted spirit board in a forgotten drawer in the old house. He uses the board one night and accidentally contacts Josie and her sister in 1915.
Over the next few spirit board sessions Josie and Alec realize they are living in the same house a century apart, and they form a close friendship. When Josie's mother discovers what Josie's been up to, she becomes intent on using what Alec knows to further her own reputation. Alec must use his knowledge from 2015, and what he finds out about the girls, to help save them from their cruel mother.
The Boy From Tomorrow is another great read for later elementary school students and middle grade readers who like adventure/mystery/scifi. It has “ghost story” listed as a genre, but I dare say this is less a ghost story as one about jumping through time as a boy in the present communicates with a girl from the past – but both in their own present day. Confused?
This is a dual-timeline story with the characters of Josie and Alec connecting through time via a “talking board” (a ouija board). Josie’s mother is manipulative and horrid, a charlatan of a psychic, and when she discovers the communication between Josie and the future, she forces Alec to provide her with information from the future so she can profit. The book moves along with a steady pace, and the supporting characters offer a little relief to what (at least at the beginning) often had an eerie feel – until the two children figured out just what was going on.
We Regret To Inform YouWe Regret to Inform You by Ariel Kaplan
Published by Random House Children's Books on August 21, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, School & Education, Social Themes, Peer Pressure, Humorous Stories
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When a high achiever is rejected by every Ivy League college--AND her safety school--her life is turned upside down. Fans of Becky Albertalli will appreciate this witty, heartfelt novel that puts college admissions in perspective.
Mischa Abramavicius is a walking, talking, top-scoring, perfectly well-rounded college application in human form. So when she's rejected not only by the Ivies, but her loathsome safety school, she is shocked and devastated. All the sacrifices her mother made to send her to prep school, the late nights cramming for tests, the blatantly résumé-padding extracurriculars (read: Students for Sober Driving), the feeling of burnout ... all that for nothing. As Mischa grapples with the prospect of an increasingly uncertain future, she questions how this could have happened in the first place. Is it possible that her transcript was hacked? With the help of her best friend and sometimes crush, Nate, and a group of eccentric techies known as "The Ophelia Syndicate," Mischa launches an investigation that will shake the quiet community of Blanchard Prep to its stately brick foundations. In her sophomore novel, A. E. Kaplan cranks the humor to full blast, and takes a serious look at the extreme pressure of college admissions.
"A well-written, intricately plotted, and sympathetic portrayal of the pressures that some elite college-bound kids experience during senior year. "--Kirkus Reviews, starred review
A Junior Library Guild Selection
We Regret to Inform You was an engaging, fast, fun mystery. While this is listed as Children’s fiction, I think it will appeal to the more mature middle grade reader and Young Adult readers. The characters are appealing, the dialogue snappy and witty, the pacing was quick, and the plot sucked me in (and generated a lot of emotional response to Mischa’s situation. As a parent, her character infuriated me, but younger reader likely won’t share my reaction.) We Regret to Inform You is also a great reflection on the pressure teens face during the college application process.
The book had a twist I wasn’t expecting, which ratcheted up my feelings of indignation on Mishca’s behalf, and I couldn’t put this one down. My 7th grader gave it two thumbs up as well.
The Swim: A Novel about Friendship And the Longest Swim in the WorldThe Swim by Jens F. Colting
Published by Moppet Books on 2018-07
Buy on Amazon
When wheelchair bound Goliath befriends the giant and disfigured boy named Tiny, who lives at the community swimming pool, the two outsiders form a friendship so strong that a hundred horses couldn't tear them apart. When Goliath's health suddenly deteriorates they hatch a plan in order to get him the treatment to save his life: They will swim across the Atlantic Ocean. Well, Tiny will swim while Goliath's mom and a friendly fisherman named Kurt follows along on a ship. As they set out in an attempt to cross the unknown, battling storms and high seas, ocean predators and whale hunters alike, this epic adventure about the longest swim in the world puts the word friend in ship.
Last but not least on my list is The Swim: A Novel about Friendship And the Longest Swim in the World. This is an imaginative and entertaining book about the unlikely friendship between two friends. Wheelchair bound Goliath has Muscular Dystrophy and his health is worsening. He befriends the shy, self-conscious Tiny, a 7-foot-tall fourteen-year-old who swims like a fish (perhaps due to his webbed fingers?) and they hatch an amazing adventure to help save Goliath’s life. This was a delightfully quirky read verging on fantasy and has some great lessons about friendship and acceptance.
That’s it – or at least “Part 1” – of my round up of books to fight the winter blahs and give parents back some sanity amid another snow day and more cold weather.