Top Ten Middle Grade Books of 2017
So many fabulous books in 2017! Working on my list is always a challenge. Only ten books! So without further waiting, here we are:
Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk was simply amazing. My hopes for this book were high, considering how much I loved Wolf Hollow last year. Absolutely pleased to report that I was not disappointed in the least! I couldn’t put this down. Crow’s story is compelling and important. Wolk’s book will have you thinking about family, identity, and the bonds that are the most important in our lives. Beautiful.
Laurel Snyder’s book Orphan Island will leave you wanting a sequel. Truly, I did not want this book to end and I wanted to know more about all of the children and of course, what happens when they leave the island. For this is an unusual island of just nine children, who have an idyllic and quiet life on the island, where the days are spent playing, finding food, and taking care of each other. Except for one day each year, the Changing day, when the boat arrives, empty but for one new young child, who arrives at the island just as the oldest child gets into the boat and leaves. What happens if the oldest child doesn’t leave? No one knows. This story is beautifully told and of course, magical and mysterious.
I listened to Refugee by Alan Gratz a few months ago. Admittedly, when I started listening I saw the number of hours on Audible and thought this book would take me awhile. But no, it didn’t. Once I started listening, I could not stop because I was captivated by these three stories. The refugees fleeing are from different times and places, but their stories are connected in surprising ways, and by the hope and determination that each story reveals through these memorable characters. Josef in 1939, boards a ship with his family, trying to escape the Nazi regime, while Isabel and her family get into a boat in Havana, Cuba in 1994, and finally, in 2015, Mahmoud and his family flee from Syria, searching for safe refuge in Europe. Readers will connect with these characters and their search for freedom and safety. I found myself with tears in my eyes, unable to stop listening. This book stays with you after you finish reading. WOW.
Krakow is a magical place in this novel, and also one of heartbreak and sadness during World War II. The Dollmarker of Krakow by R.M. Romero is a breathtaking novel that had me astounded at how Romero blended the magical with the horrors of the Holocaust, creating a story that was compelling and hopeful. The dollmaker of Krakow has magical powers and when the Germans overtake Krakow and began moving Jews out of the city, these magical powers come to take on a new life of possibilities. While the story involves the fantastical, what I found truly compelling about this book was the thread of hope that motivated the characters, in the face of horror, hope continued on and pushed ahead. A beautiful book. Read it. Fall in love with Karolina and all of the characters. And remember the stories of the Holocaust that should never be forgotten.
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate is truly a reading experience. Magical and beautiful. This is the story of a red oak tree, the neighborhood “wishtree” that had stood watching the neighborhood for years and years. Red, the tree, is wise beyond her years. While humans are caught up in differences and problems, Red sees the possibilities and the hope of friendship and family. This book will lead readers to think about friendship and inclusion, learning about others and the similarities that connect us rather than differences and division. Wishtree is a beautiful story.
Emery Lord’s novel The Names They Gave Us is the story of Lucy Hannson, a teenager whose mom just found out that her cancer returned. This throws Lucy’s world into a spin of changes, and instead of her normal summer camp job at the church camp, her parents send her to a camp for kids who have been through troubled times. While Lucy is hesitant at first, she finds true friends and connections with her fellow counselors and the kids in the camp. She also discovers the difficulties of secrets, and how important family is in our lives.
I was anxious to read Katherine Paterson’s new novel, My Brigadista Year, and I loved every minute of it. Lora is thirteen years old and determined to join Castro’s national literacy campaign, where she travels into the impoverished countryside in order to teach families how to read. She believes in her mission with a force that is to be admired. This is an amazing coming of age story and includes details about this little known period of history in Cuba as well as the author’s note.
Legos, stars, and friends. The Stars Beneath our Feet by David Barclay Moore will take you into Lolly’s world, including the pain he and his mother are feeling at the loss of his older brother in a gang shooting. The world of Harlem and the vibrant characters bring this book to life in a way that is gripping and powerful. Lolly’s life includes difficult choices, and also surprising friendships that help him see what is important in life and the family that stays by his side. The story was believable and also surprising, leading the reader on a journey through the streets and the schools of Harlem, the ups and downs of friendship and the challenges of growing up. Definitely a book that will appeal to older readers as well, in the young adult category as well.
Melanie Crowder’s story of young Marin, a girl who desperately wants to know why her mother gave her up for adoption. She moves from foster home to foster home, while carrying three pennies and the tiny book I-Ching with her, all while wondering if she can ever find her mother again. Even when Marin lands in a lovely home with a caring, attentive foster mother, she still wonders about her biological mother and the life that could have been. An interesting and accessible read for young students, who will have a lot to discuss and think about with the big ideas floating around in Marin’s story. Highly recommended for the classroom library!
The blues! When I finished Rita Williams-Garcia’s novel Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, I had no doubt that this book was in my top ten list. Clayton Byrd loses his beloved Cool Papa Byrd, a blues musician and adored grandfather. Clayton wants to be a “true bluesman among bluesmen” more than anything. The loss of Cool Papa Byrd sends Clayton on a journey of discovery, with music and interesting characters along the way. Readers will love this story – a slim novel that carries so much in it. And the writing will make your heart happy!
I loved so many books in 2017, can’t wait to see what is next in the new year! Happy 2018 to readers everywhere!