I’m a sucker for a ‘Best of’ list, which makes this my favorite time of year. Best books, best movies, best television shows, best wine, best toys, best new superheroes, best celebrity facelifts (well, maybe not that one) but you get the idea. Who can resist a good wrap-up?
This year I’ve decided to get in on the fun. I started reading middle grade fiction when my son first picked up Percy Jackson and couldn’t get enough. Since then, I’ve been dazzled by the amazing work being done in this space. From novels dealing with the serious issues some kids face to remarkable fantasy world building, the quality of today’s middle grade authors shines bright and I’m thrilled to share with you some of my favorites from 2016. These selections each have that seamless ability to transport the reader, inviting her to get lost in another reality. This is the magic of a good book and I’m certain these titles will endure, entertaining generations to come. (PS: books make great presents and they are super easy to wrap!) (Oh, and follow the links for insight into these great authors!)
And now THE LIST (in no particular order)!
Jasper Adams joins the Earth Force military agency to train as an elite astronaut, tasked with piloting spaceships that can travel across the galaxy in an instant. But the agency has been keeping secrets about how much trouble Earth is really in and now the Bounders are the only thing standing between their planet and total destruction. This is amazing world building with relatable kids in far out situations. Fantasy fans will delight in this series. Find out who Monica Tesler’s favorite authors are here.
Charlie Price is struggling in the aftermath of his mother’s death. But while his emotions are all over the place, his sister Imogen seems almost normal. Is that because Imogen has discovered a trap door beneath her bed leading to an alternate universe, one where their mother is alive? Maschari weaves elements of fantasy with realistic fiction to create an emotionally honest exploration of love and loss. I definitely cried. Find out where Jennifer Maschari’s love of story telling came from.
Dillon has problems. He wants to be a real dancer but pursing that dream at a studio means disappointing his father who wants him to play football, and his friends, who think studios are for sell outs. Torn between what he wants for himself and what others want for him, Dillon struggles to blaze his own path. Tagging along with this endearing narrator as he dances through the chaos is a real treat. Find out what Brooks Benjamin is working on right now.
Molly Nathans is a twelve year old struggling with an anxiety disorder. But as her family life unravels, the habits she relies upon to keep her anxiety in check begin to lose effectiveness and she feels less and less in control of her life. The way in which Molly’s inner life and what she presents to the world differ will resonate with readers on many levels. Find out what the hardest part of writing Finding Perfect was for Elly Swartz.
The New York Times calls this debut about Manami, a girl from Bainbridge Island, Washington sent to the Manzanar internment camp in the California desert, ‘devastating and brave.’ These are perfect words for a powerful story built on the loss of a beloved pet as a child is thrust into the chaos and confusion of a shameful time in our country’s not so distant past. I was greatly moved by this book and I believe it will impart valuable lessons to middle grade readers. Read the full New York Times review here. And find out where Lois Sepahban’s love of storytelling came from.
Piper Morgan series, by Stephanie Faris.
This delightful series of chapter books, aimed at early middle grade readers, follow the adventures of eight year old Piper Morgan. In Piper Morgan Joins the Circus, Piper’s mom takes a job with the Big Top Circus and Piper gets a chance to perform. Of course, things go horribly array but Piper’s the kind of girl who will ultimately save the day. I thoroughly enjoyed her spunk and can-do attitude and I think you will too. Find out what Stephanie Faris does for fun when she’s not writing.
Who can resist a book whose main character attends the Saint Lupin’s Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children? Not me. But when the day arrives for Anne to finally leave the school, strange happenings occur and she finds herself tasked with an epic quest. It’s up to Anne and her friends to triumph over some pretty monstrous foes and save the day. I love funny and this series beginning hits the mark. Just right for a kid who appreciates a laugh. Find out what the hardest part of writing this book was for Wade Albert White.
Claudeline is very good at being bad. In fact, she comes from a long line of gangsters although she senses her father is running the family business into the ground. When a strange woman shows up in town, Claudeline gets pulled into a maddening mystery that has her wondering what it really means to be bad. Claudeline, a little naughty with a heart of gold, shares DNA with Harriet the Spy and kids who enjoy mysteries and crime solving will adore her. Find out what Sarah Lariviere does for fun when she’s not writing.