Don’t say farewell to 2017 before you check out these ten great books for 9 to 12 year olds. There’s something for every young reader in this list of ten of the best of 2017!
Have Sword, Will Travel, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams
This is top notch fantasy for young reader ready to set out on their first heroic journey. Odo, an unremarkable boy from an unremarkable village, fishes a magical sword (it talks!) from the mud of the unusually low river. The sword dubs Odo a knight, much to the envy of his friend Eleanor, who (unlike Odo) actually wants to be one. Led by the opinionated sword, the two children travel upstream, following rumors that a dragon has blocked the river. Satisfying adventures and dangers await, testing the wits of the two kids, and Eleanor’s dream comes true when she too finds a magic sword. And at last they do meet the dragon they were seeking….but the encounter isn’t at all what they expected. The three main characters (Odo’s sword is a personality in its own right) are great fun to adventure with; this story is a delight!
The First Rule of Punk, by Celia C. Pérez
Twelve-year-old Malú loves hanging out at her dad’s indie record store, listening to punk rock music and making zines. But when her mother gets a new job in Chicago, she has to leave her dad and his music behind and starts at a new middle school. Malú wants her new school self to be punk all the way; her Mexican-American mother does not approve, and Malú struggles to balance her own Mexican-American identity with her punk side. She forms her own punk band with three of the school “misfits” and rocks on toward the realization that she doesn’t have to pick just one side of herself. Interspersed with the main story are glimpses of Malú’s zines, that expand her character and her world. She’s a thoughtful and creative character to love, and her story is fun and fraught with the sort of tensions that all middle school kids can appreciate!
Bone Jack, by Sara Crowe
I don’t think there’s any better middle grade book of 2017 for the young reader who loves the old places and stories of the British Isles, where the past seeps into the present day with magical consequences. 13 year-old Ash is to be this year’s Stag Boy in a race that’s become a quaint custom in his English village. The boys playing the hounds are not expected these days to hunt the stag to his death in a ritual to renew the land. Ash’s community has been hit by drought and sickness has killed the flocks of sheep. His best friend’s father killed himself, and Ash’s own father has come home from war with PTSD. The darkness of the present calls to the past, and Ash sees the ghost of a past Stag Boy chased over a cliff’s edge by merciless boys playing the hounds. The tension grows as Ash realizes he is caught in an ancient magic that might kill him. It’s an intense story, but the focus on family, home, and friendships is just right for older kids. Give this to those who love Celtic-infused fantasy with a dash of horror!
Last Day on Mars, by Kevin Emerson
This is arguably the most gripping middle grade science fiction book of the year. A hundred and fiftyish years in the future, our sun is going supernova, long before it should. Earth was abandoned for Mars, but now Mars too is about to be engulfed, and so colony ships have set off for a new solar system. Liam and his friend Phoebe are supposed to be on the last ship out. Their parents are desperately working to finish the terraforming project that will make their new home habitable, but they have only a few hours left before the ship must leave, and things are going wrong. Not just ordinary wrong, but the sort of problems caused by evil star-destroying alien masterminds who don’t want humanity to make it. Sabotage, robots, space travel and the looming threat of death by supernova combine in a nail-biting adventure that will leave readers anxious for the next book.
The Shadow Cipher, by Laura Ruby
Here’s one for those who enjoy smart kids following cryptic clues, with mechanical marvels and alternate/steampunkish versions of reality! Tess and Theo live in an old New York apartment building built by the legendary Morningstar twins. The Morningstars weren’t just architects; they were also inventors of many strange and wonderful contraptions that are still part of the city. They also created a mysterious puzzle, promising a large reward to whoever solves it. No one has. Tess and Theo, joined by Jaime Cruz, another kid in their building, stumble on a new set of clues to the puzzle, and set off through a slightly twisted version of New York, scrambling through hidden tunnels, and riding the insane Underway, while the dangers of the hunt grow. The adventure is full of interesting puzzles and details that will especially dazzle those who like to explore the stories of hidden or forgotten men and women. The three kids are great characters, and the wild, whimsical city is a delight!
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, by Rita Garcia Williams
Clayton has been counting the days til he can be part of the music played by his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and his band of Bluesmen. His harmonica is an extension of himself, and he wishes his grandfather would agree that he’s ready to play with the grown-ups. But before that happens, his grandfather dies. His mother resents the music that took her father away from her so often, and she can’t stand the thought of her own boy taking that same path. So she bans Clayton from playing the blues, sending him off with his harmonica to find the Bluesmen. Down in the subways of New York, he finds a different sort of music with a group of rough older boys. Things get a bit ugly, and when the police arrive, Clayton must face the music of his mother’s anger. Can he convince her to respect his dream? Any kid who’s ever struggled to define themselves instead of being defined by their parents will relate, and even kids who haven’t had to do so will enjoy Clayton’s warm and ultimately hopeful journey.
Binny Bewitched, by Hilary McKay
Binny’s family has been going through tough times since her father’s death. Repairs to their house must be paid for, with money they don’t have. When Binny finds a large wad of cash in an ATM, it seems like the perfect solution…but her happiness quickly gets squashed by her guilty conscience, and then when she resolves to return the money she can’t find it. Her frantic hunt disrupts her home and threatens her closest friendship, and she becomes convinced that a sinisterly intrusive neighbor is a witch who knows what she did. Her brother and sister are going through their own rough patches, but though the tension mounts and it might seem that everything is awful, the humor and warmth of the story-telling keep the reader from worrying too much. Readers who love amusing domestic chaos, where family and friends persevere despite everything, will take Binny and her family into their hearts!
Caleb and Kit, by Beth Vrabel
Here’s a great one for readers who love moving stories of friendship. Caleb has cystic fibrosis, and has spent his life being protected by his mother. Now that he’s twelve, he’s kicking against her care, though he needs it to keep breathing. One day he heads angrily off into the woods alone and meets a girl, Kit, who leads him out of his protected life into adventures. Kit doesn’t talk about her own life, but it becomes clear that all is not well. The questionable choices the kids make in their adventures lead to an ending that is fortunately not tragic, but which does make the point that kids need grownups who care. Cystic fibrosis might sometimes confine Caleb, but it doesn’t define him. Nor does it overshadow the themes of friendship, honesty, and the adolescent desire to be both independent from and loved by the grownups in their lives.
Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh
This is one of my all-time top recommendations for kids who want horror that’s scary as heck, without being scarring for life scary. Harper didn’t want to move to a surprisingly cheap old house in a new city. Once she finds it haunted, she likes it even less. Harper can communicate with ghosts, and when her little brother becomes possessed by an evil spirit of another little boy who lived, and died, in the house, she’s the one that must save him. Fortunately, she has the help of her Korean grandmother, herself a spirit hunter. There’s plenty of horror, but it’s also a story of family and friendship, and this balance makes the horror less nightmarish. Memorable and gripping as all get out, offer this to the kid who was reading the Goosebumps book last year!
See You in the Cosmos, by Jack Cheng
11-year-old Alex Petroski adores rockets, and 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. So Alex sets out to fill his i-pod with images of life on Earth, to be launched on a rocket he himself has made, traveling with his dog (named after Sagan) to a rocket festival in Colorado and then on to New Mexico, Las Vegas and L.A. Though his own rocket doesn’t do well at the festival, and clearly can’t get his i-pod out beyond Earth, the journey is worth it in the end. Alex learns the truth about his long-dead dad, and finds that he has more family than he thought. The story, full of encounters with funny, lost, memorable Earthlings, and narrated by Alex into his i-pod, is moving and hopeful, just like Alex himself.
What were your favorite MG reads of 2017?