2017 is promising a bumper crop of great middle grade novels, and I hope I can find the time to read them all! Here are ten I’m especially looking forward to, a mix of fantasy (winged lions!) and realistic ones that sound especially great that will see you through the end of August.
The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: The Wall of Fame Game, by Crystal Allan (January 31)
Here’s one for younger middle grade readers who like fun stories about real life. Nine year old Mya Tibbs is going to be a big sister, which makes her happy, partly because her mom is spending quality time with her in advance, watching an Annie Oakley marathon (Mya’s a Texas cow-girl at heart). Then Naomi Jackson, mean queen girl of her school, boasts that she’ll beat Mya in the famous fourth-grade wall of Fame Game, and Mya can’t let that stand. So now she’s studying every night instead of enjoying her last days with her mom as an only child. And on top of that, she’s gotten herself entered in the town’s annual chili cook-off, even though she can’t cook! But Mya is determined, and comes through swimmingly, with humor and heart and page-turning fun.
The Castle in the Mist, by Amy Ephron (February 7)
Those who love classic fantasy tales should love this one! Tess’s summer in a sleepy English village turns magical when she finds an old brass key that opens an ornate gate set in an invisible wall. Beyond the gate is magic. Past the rose gardens and hedges is a castle, where a lonely boy named William lives, with carnival rides and sculptures that come to life. But when Tess’s little brother disappears into the eerie hawthorn forest, Tess and William must face terrifying, soul-stealing morphons, and must learn the power of wishes in order to bring him back.
See You in the Cosmos, by Jack Cheng (February 28)
11-year-old Alex Petroski keeps his face turned to the stars. He dreams of launching his i-pod into space, the way his idol, Carl Sagan, sent a golden record into space on board the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. Alex sets out to fill his i-pod with images of life on Earth, traveling with his dog (named after Carl Sagan) from Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A. It’s a journey full of encounters with funny, lost, memorable Earthlings. On the way he learns the truth about his long-dead dad, and finds that he has more family than he thought. The story is compassionate, hopeful, and full of optimism, just like Alex himself.
Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded, by Sage Blackwood (March 21)
Journey up the twisty streets of the walled city of Lightning Pass and you’ll reach Miss Ellicott’s School for Magical Maidens—Spells, Potions, Wards, Summonings and Deportment Taught to Deserving Surplus Females. 13 year old Chantel, a student at the school, couldn’t give a fig for the deportment side of things, but excels at learning magic. This comes in handy when all the sorcerers who protect the city vanish, and hordes of marauders attack. With the help of friends, including a fire-breathing dragon, a crossbow-wielding boy, and a long-dead queen, Chantel must use all the magic she can muster to save the city. It’s subversive, funny and magical as all get out.
Journey across the Hidden Islands, by Sarah Beth Durst (April 4)
I find sister stories especially appealing, and this sounds like a great one! Seika and Ji-Lin, the twin daughters of the Emperor of Himitsu, have always been close, but when they turn 11, they must follow different paths. Seika is the heir apparent, and Ji-Lin must go to the Temple of the Sun to train to be one of her sister’s imperial guards, and learn to fly as the companion of a winged lion. After a year, they are sent on the traditional journey of every heir to renew the kingdom’s bargain with the dragon of Himitsu. The dragon is supposed to protect the Hundred Islands of Himitsu with a magical barrier, but the sisters find that the old ways have been abandoned and the barrier is falling. To keep their people safe, both girls must become heroes…if they can.
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, by Rita Garcia Williams (May 9)
Clayton loves spending time with this grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and his band of Bluesmen, and he can’t wait till he’s part of the music too. But then his grandfather dies, and his mother bans Clayton from playing the blues. Clayton can’t stand to give up his dreams of music, so he takes off with his grandpa’s porkpie hat and his harmonica to find the Bluesmen and become part of the band. It’s a journey that takes him down into the subways of New York, and to some surprising revelations, and if it’s at all like Rita Garcia-Williams previous books for kids (like One Crazy Summer) it’s sure to be a warm, rich read with characters to love.
The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis (May 30th)
Aventurine is a brave young dragon who wants to explore the world outside her mountain cave, but her family thinks she’s too young to set off on her own. She’s ready to prove them wrong when she captures the most dangerous of creatures—a human. But when her prey tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, Aventurine is transformed into a puny human herself. She’s just as fierce and dragon as ever on the inside, but now she has a passion for chocolate. Clearly what she needs to do is go right to the source, and become an apprentice in a chocolate house (one that desperately needs to build its customer base)…and maybe she’ll figure out who she truly wants to be before her family come looking for her, ready to burn the chocolate business to the ground…Magic, mayhem, and lots of chocolate combine to make a story that sounds delicious.
Kat Greene Comes Clean, by Melissa Roska (August 22)
This one has an interesting twist on a realistic story of middle grade stress! Eleven-year-old Kat Greene is being driven crazy by her mother’s mania for cleaning. Every inch of their New York City apartment is constantly being scrubbed, and then her mom takes things to a new level when she decides to try out for the TV game show “Clean Sweep.” With friendship troubles (her best friend’s turned boy crazy) and a disappointing role in the school play, Kat doesn’t know if she can cope. Thank goodness for true friends!
The Last Panther, by Todd Mitchell (August 22)
Here’s one to delight animal lovers. Wild things call to eleven year old Kiri, who lives in a future of environmental devastation with her scientist father and pet rat, Snowflake. When she helps her father capture the last known wild Florida panther, she knows that she must try to save it. Her father wants to send the panther to a zoo, and locals want to sell it for money to feed their families. Kiri, caught between her father, the villagers, and what she knows in her own heart to be right, sets off on a dangerous journey to save the panther, and herself.
A Properly Unhaunted Place, by William Alexander (August 22)
And finally, here’s one for ghost lovers, set in the small town of Ingot, which is the only ghost-free town in the world. Rosa Ramona Díaz has just moved to town (unwillingly as all get out), and doesn’t understand how her mother—a ghost-appeasement specialist—could want to live in a place with no ghosts. She certainly doesn’t. Jasper Chevalier, on the other hand, has always lived there, and is fine with the fact that he’s never seen a ghost. But when an otherworldly apparition comes to town and heralds a storm of angry spirits, Rosa needs all the ghost appeasement tips she can get from her mom, and some help from Jasper, to restore peace to her new home…before it’s too late.
What middle grade books are you looking forward to this year?